It doesn’t get any better than this. Number one host number two on the log. There’s an old saying that goes, “Records are meant to be broken”, and Monday will be such an occasion for the FNB Varsity Cup presented by Steinhoff International tournament.
The stage is set for a thrilling final in the tenth season of the Varsity Cup. Three-time champions, FNB Maties travel North to Pretoria to face old rivals, FNB UP-Tuks for the Varsity Cup title on Easter Monday, 17 April.
These two sides have met a record 15 times including three semi-finals and two finals since the inception of the competition in 2008. FNB Maties have beaten FNB UP-Tuks eight times including the 2008, 2009 and 2016 semi-finals while the Pretoria side have won this fixture six times including the 2012 and 2013 final. The home side are the only side, apart from FNB Maties, to have won back-to-back Varsity Cup titles. Last time these two sides met, FNB UP-Tuks edged past the Maroon Machine, 13-9 in a tense battle in Pretoria in the opening round. Should the visitors take this one, they will increase their number of tournament victories from three to a record-breaking fourth, however, if FNB UP-Tuks win it, they will become the second side in Varsity Cup history to win the title three times, after FNB Maties.
Playing in his 41st Varsity Cup match, FNB Maties utility back Craig Barry believes that the visitors have what it takes to claim their fourth Varsity Cup trophy. The 24-year-old was handed the captain’s armband after the appointed skipper, Beyers de Villiers, was forced into an early retirement from the sport following a serious concussion injury.
“The guys have been working hard as I am sure Tuks have been too, but I feel that the team who wants it more on Monday will take it,” says Barry. “We are like family, the boys have formed a strong bond among each other and this I feel will give us that edge we need to pull it off.”
FNB UP-Tuks captain, Chris Massyn is confident that the two-time champions can topple the visitors come Monday. The Public Management student accepts that talent won’t be enough to win the match.
“This is what we have been building towards all season, wanting to make it into the final,” says Massyn. “We have been working hard all season and the fact that we topped the log after the regular season means nothing in the play-offs. This is all that matters, to go out, make our family and supporters proud and to enjoy the game we all love.”
These two teams have dominated nearly every facet of the game throughout the competition. FNB UP-Tuks have scored 50 tries while their opposition from Stellenbosch have dotted down 45 times. However on defence, FNB UP-Tuks have missed an average of 11 tackles per game and with the visitors’ potent midfield combination of Michal Haznar and Chris Smit the home side will have to drastically reduce this number. Pote Human’s men will undoubtedly rely on their set pieces, which have been their strength in securing quality ball possession.
The strength of the home side for the entire season has been how brilliantly their pack of forwards dominate the set pieces and with a potent backline including players such as Sibahle Maxwane, Divan Rossouw and Dewald Naude the visitors will have their work cut out on defence. The accuracy of both playmakers off the tee is always a telling factor in tight affairs. The boot of Tinus de Beer and Ernst Stapleberg will be relied on to keep either side within reach of the other. De Beer has been known for attacking the space with confidence and is not afraid to run at the opposition backline while the cool, calm and collected Stapleberg has the ability to put players like Haznar and Smit into space.
FNB UP-Tuks: 15 Manie Libbok, 14 Dewald Naude, 13 Divan Rossouw, 12 Joshua Stander, 11 Sibahle Maxwane, 10 Tinus De Beer, 9 Andre Warner, 8 Clyde Davids, 7 Chris Massyn (c), 6 Marco Van Staden, 5 Aston Fortuin, 4 Bryan Leitch, 3 Neethling Fouche, 2 Els Corniel, 1 Andrew Beerwinkel
Replacements: 16 Jan-Henning Campher, 17 Jaco Holtzhausen, 18 Marius Verwey, 19 Eduan Lubbe, 20 Theo Maree, 21 Toko Maebane, 22 Keanan van Wyk, 22 Franco van den Berg
FNB Maties: 15 Tiaan Swanepoel, 14 Kyle Steyn, 13 Michal Haznar, 12 Chris (Barend) Smit, 11 Craig Barry (c), 10 Ernst Stapelberg, 9 Brendon Nell, 8 Devon Nash, 7 Kobus van Dyk, 6 Mitchell Carstens, 5 Johan Momsen, 4 Ian Groenewald, 3 Niel Oelofse, 2 Craig Corbett, 1 Wesley Adonis
Replacements: 16 HJ (Hendrik) Luus, 17 Ricky Ngwabara, 18 Wikus Groenewald, 19 Ruben De Villiers, 20 Stephan Streicher, 21 Remu Malan, 22 Chris Smith, 23 Duncan Saal
By Lyndon Julius