GARETH DUNCAN watched Tuks rally to a 29-21 win over Maties in the 2012 Varsity Cup final in Pretoria.
Forget the mixed reactions to the new scoring system and the late controversy following the team selection scandal, this final was a great advert for the Varsity Cup: rugby that rocks. Tuks clinched their first title as they beat three-time champions Maties in an epic finish to the year.
It was a ferocious, physical battle between the two teams, especially up front among the forwards. The tackle points and rucks resembled a war zone as players put their bodies on the line to give their troops momentum.
While Maties ruled the lineout contests and were defensively strong, Tuks held the upper hand at scrums and collisions for most parts of the match, and the hosts utilised this platform to achieve victory and give the students from Stellenbosch their first defeat of 2012.
Tuks used their physical dominance well, and this ascendancy was taken in the opening moments of the match. They even turned down kickable penalties and opted for touch to pursue the whitewash. This led to their first try when outside centre Jerome Pretorius powered through after good phase play.
After the strategy break, Maties hit back thanks to the individual brilliance from fullback Andre Smith, who chipped the ball into space and gathered to dot down. Both sides headed into the half-time with the score deadlocked at 13-13, after Tuks reserve prop Basil Short and Maties lock Hugo Kloppers crossed the chalk in the final quarter.
Tuks’ second-half display was pivotal as they dominated shortly after the restart. They forced Maties on the back foot from the kick-off, and a midfield turnover was capitalised upon when scrumhalf Lohan Jacobs finished off a smart counter-attacking move.
Then came the telling score. Tuks persisted with the aerial route on attack, despite the lack of success earlier in the match. Clayton Bloemtjies won possession from an up-and-under that sailed into the Maties red zone, and the fullback offloaded to lock Franco Mostert to burrow through under the posts.
With a 16-point buffer at the death, the win was secured among the chants of ‘Tuks of niks’ from the 14 000-strong home crowd. Even a consolation try from Maties reserve prop Hein van der Merwe couldn’t dampen the celebrations. The Varsity Cup trophy will leave the Cape for the first time since the tournament’s inception in 2008 and will be based in Pretoria for the next year.