From top dog to underdog

The challenge continues to mount for UCT with rumours Stellenbosch may field several WP players for Monday’s Varsity Cup final.

The Ikeys finished top of the log to earn a home semi-final and qualified for the final in incredible fashion when they edged Pukke 32-31 last week. However, the subsequent seven days have been tainted by controversy with event organisers ruling UCT’s floodlights are inadequate to stage a televised night game. They also ruled out the option of staging the final at Newlands, as the match needs to take place on a university campus.

Maties are the big winners as a result, earning the right to host the inaugural Varsity Cup final at the Danie Craven Stadium. The two universities are old rivals, with Stellenbosch having the wood over UCT at Coetzenberg. However, Maties have similarly struggled to pick up results at UCT in recent years.

There is little doubt home advantage will be a factor, and unfortunately for the Ikeys, television ratings and the all-important rand have won over the game itself. In any other competition in the world a team finishing top of the league earns the right to play at home. Not so on this occasion.

Another late development may see Maties with a further advantage. The latest rumour is that Western Province players will be used to bolster the Maties line-up with sources close to saying Stormers utility player Joe Pietersen is a likely starter at fullback. The teams have been announced, but the national club champs may have a surprise in store when the game kicks off at 18:45 tonight.

UCT will need to put aside the disappointment of the past week when they travel into hostile territory. The customary Ikey supporter bus loads will be in tow, but they’ll struggle to match the clamour of the home fans. The Danie Craven Stadium will be packed, and the majority of that crowd will be screaming for the men in maroon.

UCT have already recorded a win over Maties in the league stage of the competition, beating Stellenbosch 38-32 in George. Their backline has been the primary threat, with the prolific Mathew Turner certain to be a marked man. Maties will also be wary of the Ikey counterattack. UCT proved they can never be discounted even if they are down by three scores, as was the case against Pukke last week.

Their work at the breakdown will be a worry, and this is where the big men from Stellenbosch will fancy their chances. There’s no question a free-flowing game will play into the hands of the visitors, and so Maties may elect to keep it tight and force the Ikeys to play the ball close to the point of contact.

Both sides have played out of their skins to reach this point, but nobody should underestimate the value of home advantage. Hosting the final at UCT, the Ikeys would have been favourites, but the loss of this right has seen them slip from the position of top dog to underdog.

Stellenbosch – Therlow Pietersen, Henoe Stoffberg, Jean Stemmet, Sarel Potgieter, Llewellyn Winckler, Coenie van Wyk, Wilhelm Koch, Bennie Booysen (c), Jonathan Adendorf, Zandre Jordaan, Jaco Nepgen, Erich Laubscher, Jacob Adriaanse, Lisle Clark, Johan Roets.
Subs: Matthew Dobson, Andrew Crausaz, De Kock Steenkamp, Albert Fullard, Prieur de Jager, Lucian Cloete, Jowayne van Wyk.
UCT – Robert Hopwood, Marcello Sampson, Tim Whitehead, Pieter Engelbrecht, Mathew Turner, Matthew Rosslee, Danie van der Merwe, JJ Gagiano (c), Mzoi Simani, Enoch Panya, Martin Muller, Michael Ledwidge, Dylan Rogersm JP Koster, Herbert Mayosi.
Subs: Mark Goosen, Wesley Chetty, Dane Galley, Kyle Brown, Kyle Wickins, Peter Haw, Sean van Tonder.

By Jon Cardinelli