Varsity Cup showdowns begin

The four most impressive teams have made the Varsity Cup semi-finals, but who will go on to qualify for the 2012 title decider?

It has been a predictable road to the play-offs during the league stage, but finals rugby is never certain. Unbeaten Maties and in-form Tuks will be favourite to achieve victory in these semi-final fixtures, especially with home-ground advantage. But don’t rule out UJ and Pukke, who have also made a good impressions this season.

In the first semi-final in Stellenbosch, Maties face the last team to have beaten them at Danie Craven Stadium. UJ recorded a 39-19 win in the last round of the 2011 campaign – a result that eliminated Maties from the title race as they failed to finish in the top four for the first time in the tournament’s history. Thirteen survivours remain from that famous triumph, which will make the students from Johannesburg confident of forcing another upset.

However, Maties have looked a far better team compared to the squad they had last year, which was their worst crop in four years. Chean Roux’s chargers had to depend on a last-minute converted try for a 10-10 draw in Jozi last week, but one can expect a more convincing showing from the hosts on this occasion.

In the second semi-final in Pretoria, Pukke come up against Tuks, a team they haven’t beaten in two years. The latter have developed into a Varsity Cup powerhouse since then, rallying into the final last year and only losing one match in the league phase this season. Conversely, Pukke have regressed and last made the finals in 2010. But North West University have improved with a physical pack, which has been the key influence in most of their victories.

Maties vs UJ, Stellenbosch, 5:30pm

Maties – 15 André Smith, 14 Ryan Nell, 13 Wessel Coetzee, 12 Louis Jordaan, 11 Dean Hammond, 10 André Kemp, 9 Boela Abrahams, 8 Grant Hattingh, 7 Helmut Lehmann (ca), 6 Sam Mabombo, 5 Hugo Kloppers, 4 Reniel Hugo, 3 Os Hamman, 2 Rob Herring, 1 Brummer Badenhorst.
Subs: 16 Alfred Ries, 17 Alistair Vermaak, 18 JP Swanepoel, 19 Nicholas de Jager, 20 Donald Stevens, 21 Jarryd Buys, 22 Clearance Khumalo, 23 Hein van der Merwe.

UJ – 15 Worsie Kotze, 14 JR Esterhuizen, 13 Justin St. Jerry, 12 Luan Steenkamp, 11 Chrysander Botha, 10 Guy Cronjé, 9 Rudy Paige, 8 Justin Wheeler (c), 7 Wendal Wehr, 6 Johan van Deventer, 5 Sebastian de Chaves, 4 Marnus van Huyssteen, 3 Heinrich Terblanche, 2 Francois du Toit, 1 Wessel du Rand.
Subs: 16 Shaun Malton, 17 Ruan Dreyer, 18 Shane Kirkwood, 19 Jaco Kriel, 20 Jacques Pretorius, 21 Divan van Zyl, 22 Aubrey McDonald, 23 Jaco Vermeulen. prediction:
Maties by 10

Tuks vs Pukke, Potchefstroom, 7:30pm

Tuks – TBC

Pukke – 15 SW Oosthuizen, 14 Andrew van Wyk, 13 Ruan Jacobs, 12 Joubert Engelbrecht (c), 11 Joe Seerane, 10 Gerhard Nortier, 9 Tiaan Dorfling, 8 Spanner Pretorius, 7 Ernie Strydom, 6 Philip de Wet, 5 Victor Kruger, 4 Siyanda Ndlovu, 3 John-Roy Jenkinson, 2 JC Oberholzer, 1 Henry Scharneck.
Subs: 16 Marius Fourie, 17 Martin Dreyer, 18 Lodewyk Uys, 19 HP Swart/Siya Mdaka, 20 Andries Botha, 21 Malan van der Merwe, 22 Terswin Raubenheimer, 23 Mashudu Mafela. prediction: Tuks by 8

By Gareth Duncan