The FNB TUT Vikings snatched a dramatic 50-43 extra-time victory over FNB CUT in their Varsity Cup promotion/relegation play-off in Pretoria on Monday.
TUT wing Ruan van Loo got over in the final seconds of extra-time for his hat-trick try which sealed his side's spot in the 2012 Varsity Cup and ensured that there will still be two teams from Pretoria in the competition, while Varsity Shield champions CUT will have to wait at least another year before they break into the Varsity Cup.
After a lively start to the game in which both teams spent time in the opposition's 22, the Men from Bloemfontein got on the scoreboard first through a penalty kicked by fullback Andre le Roux.
TUT responded by storming into CUT's 22 with their forwards making good ground but CUT's last line of defence stood firm and they hit back with the game's first try.
Flyhalf Egan Gysman collected a good chip over the top and he was brought down just metres short. The support arrived and after a few phases of driving play they sent it wide where No.8 Jean Cook was waiting with an overlap. The SA Under-20 loose forward stretched over the line and with Le Roux's conversion CUT had a 10-0 lead.
However, the TUT Vikings hit straight back when nippy scrumhalf Ettienne Greeff picked up a loose ball and sped through a gap to score under the poles from long range which made it 10-7 to CUT at the first strategy break.
CUT got on the front foot after the strategy break and put TUT under some serious pressure in their own territory. They were rewarded with another penalty from Le Roux which made it 13-7 to CUT.
TUT then responded with some pressure of their own and captain Jacques van Rooyen came inches from scoring. They sent it out wide and there were too many numbers so inside centre Lutho Nyeka crashed over in the left corner. TUT fullback Justin van Staden bounced the touchline conversion off the upright and CUT had a slender 13-12 lead.
They increased that lead when Le Roux nailed a penalty from the halfway line to make it 16-12 and those were the last points of the half after Van Staden missed a simple kick on the stroke of half-time.
The team from the Free State would have been relieved to survive a great run from Van Staden who weaved his way through their team and chipped the last defender but just could not finish it off when he overran the ball.
CUT extended their lead when they drew first blood in the second half through a well-taken try to left wing Nhlanganiso Sibanda. Gysman put in a perfectly weighted spot kick which bounced up for Sibanda as he crashed over the line to make it 21-12.
TUT surged back upfield and the flying Ruan Van Loo was there to receive the last pass from Van Staden, who had done all the hard work, and get over for his team's third try. The conversion added by flyhalf Hansie Graaff made it 21-19 to CUT with twenty minutes left.
The dynamic Jean Cook proved his value to his team when he got over for his second try shortly after the strategy break after some good handling by his teammates. That made it 28-19 but that score was also shortlived as TUT replied once more.
The CUT forward pack were powerless to stop an excellent rolling maul from the Men from Pretoria and they gathered some good momentum before flank Ryno Lopes crashed over for the try which made it 28-24.
TUT pressed hard in the closing stages of the match, sensing that their place in the 2012 Varsity Cup was in serious jeopardy and they threw everything at CUT who were holding on for dear life.
The pressure eventually told when TUT sent it wide after another good maul and replacement Abednego Mamushi got over in the corner to give his side the lead for the first time in the game at 29-28.
CUT were not deterred though and they had a full go at their opponents with TUT lock Maree Ewald eventually going offside in front of the poles and giving Le Roux a chance to get the lead back which he did easily, 31-29 to CUT with five minutes remaining.
However, CUT hearts were broken when Van Loo intercepted on his own 22 and raced upfield to dot down under the poles for the crucial try.
But there was even more to come in this epic clash when CUT spent the dying moments camped on TUT's tryline. They were finally rewarded when replacement flyhalf Noel Marx got over in the right corner to level the scores up at 36-36.
Extra time was ten minutes each way, and with a place in the Varsity Cup at stake the sides climbed into one another once again.
The players were clearly out on their feet after giving everything in the first eighty minutes and there was some sloppy play but no lack of effort from either side.
TUT came up with the crucial try when No.8 Gerrie van Niekerk bashed his way over under the poles after strong driving play from his captain Jacques van Rooyen.
CUT replacement Frans Sisita busted over after some great interplay from his teammates. At 43-43 with three minutes remaining in extra-time a kick-off was looming.
But there was one final twist when TUT took a long range penalty in the final seconds of extra time. The kick was wide and CUT ran it back, getting as far as the 22 before they lost it. TUT had one last crack and a massive gap opened up for wing Ruan van Loo who raced through for his hat-trick try that sealed his team's place in the Varsity Cup next year.
For FNB CUT:
Tries: Cook 2, Sibanda, Marx
Con: Le Roux 2
Pen: Le Roux 4
For FNB TUT:
Tries: Greeff, Nyeka, Van Loo 3, Lopes, Mamushi, Van Niekerk
Cons: Van Staden, Graaff 3, Van Loo
CUT: 15 Andre le Roux, 14 Alec Mhlanga, 13 Jaco Oosthuizen, 12 Maphello Mpondo, 11 Nhlanganiso Sibanda, 10 Egan Gysman, 9 Inus Kritzinger (captain), 8 Jean Cook, 7 Johan Meintjies, 6 Francois Harvey, 5 Gavin Annandale, 4 Carl Wegner, 3 Werner Pretorius, 2 Deon Gouws, 1 Rudi Britz.
Replacements: 16 Petri Coetzee, 17 Rudi Fuls, 18 Johan Klopper, 19 Frans Sisita, 20 Noel Marx, 21 Leon Pretorius, 22 Frederick Badenhorst, 23 Danie van der Merwe.
TUT: 15 Justin van Staden, 14 Theuns Kruger, 13 Simphiwe Mtimkulu, 12 Lutho Nyeka, 11 Ruan van Loo, 10 Hansie Graaff, 9 Ettienne Greeff, 8 Gerrie van Niekerk, 7 Ryno Coetzee, 6 Ryno Lopes, 5 Maree Ewald, 4 Tinus van Wyk, 3 Braam van der Merwe, 2 Eugene Cunha, 1 Jacques van Rooyen (captain).
Replacements: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Dandre van der Wetshuyzen, 18 Anthony Erasmus, 19 Alfred Khoza, 20 Manny Raposo, 21 Abednego Mamushi, 22 Oswald Gibson, 23 Anton Krynauw.
Referee: Rasta Rashivenga
TMO: Johann Meuwesen