The University of the Witwatersrand won their second consecutive game in the inaugural Varsity Shield when they managed to beat FNB UWC 22-19 in a humdinger in Johannesburg on Thursday evening.
Wits suffered an early setback when former SA Under-20 fullback Wilton Pietersen - who is on the comeback trail - limped off injured. His replacement Michael Sephton-Poultney opened the scoring for the home team with a well-taken penalty to give them an early lead.
Wits then extended their lead through flying left-wing Riaan Arends who broke through the UWC defence to score the opening try under the poles. Sephton-Poultney added the conversion to make it 10-0 as Wits took control of the match.
Shortly before half-time lock Charles Baggott found himself on the end of a slick passing movement by Wits and powered his way over the line in the left corner. Sephton-Poultney could not convert from the touchline, but Wits had put themselves in a commanding position as they took a 15-0 lead into the half-time break.
But UWC came out hard after the break and hit back with a try to speedy left-wing Anthony Volminck after some good handling down the right-hand side of the field. Outside centre Justin Mackay added the conversion to narrow the gap to eight points.
UWC kept the pressure on and it told when flank Rashaad Williams then crashed over under the uprights. The conversion by flyhalf Charl van Vollenhoven made it a one-point game at 15-14 (to Wits).
The Men from Bellville seized the game by the scruff of the neck when replacement Adriaan Herman pounced on a loose ball and used his pace to go over in the corner. The conversion was missed but the damage had been done as UWC had scored 19 unanswered points after half-time and Wits were left wondering what had hit them as they trailed by 15-19.
The match swung one final time when Wits stole the game at the death when flanker Clayton Allem scored the decisive five-pointer under the posts in the last minute. The conversion from Sephton-Poultney brought an end to an epic match which saw both teams dominate at different stages.
* Wits' next game is against UKZN at Peter Booysen Sports Park on Monday night, whilst the disappointed UWC will take on CUT - who won their first match on Thursday - at home in Bellville.
For FNB Wits:
Try: Arends, Baggott, Allem
Cons: Sephton-Poultney 2
For FNB UWC:
Try: Volminck, Williams, Herman
Con: Mackay, Van Vollenhoven
Wits: 15 Wilton Pieterson, 14 Eman Mphande, 13 Brandon Lizamore, 12 Heinke Hartdegen, 11 Riaan Arends, 10 Sean Manton, 9 David Turnbull (captain), 8 Devin Montgomery, 7 Clayton Allem, 6 Ryan Odendall, 5 Charles Baggott, 4 Brendan Whyte, 3 Anele Guzana, 2 Sheldon Terblanche, 1 Katlego Kgame.
Replacements: 16 Tyrell Tintinger, 17 Paulo Ferreira, 18 Kats Ntsie, 19 Paulo Berinato, 20 Brent Crossley, 21 Michael Sephton-Poultney, 22 Nkuli Gamede, 23 Andrew Keightley-Smith.
UWC: 15 Warrick Rhoda, 14 Donovan Williams, 13 Justin Mackay, 12 Kenwin Weiner, 11 Anthony Volminck, 10 Charl van Vollenhoven, 9 Havillain Abrahams, 8 Heinie Marcus, 7 Uzair Cassiem, 6 Rashaad Williams, 5 JP Kellerman, 4 Kemsley Wesso, 3 Carlo Jacobs (captain), 2 Charlie van Jaarsveld, 1 Denzel Riddles.
Replacements: 16 Rudie Deim, 17 Zolani Faku, 18 Kelvin de Bruyn, 19 Griffith Temba, 20 Calvin Hendricks, 21 Denzel Willemse, 22 Ambrose Steyn, 23 Adrian Herman.
Referee: Lusanda Jam