On 8 February, FNB Tuks and FNB Pukke kicked off the 2016 FNB Varsity Cup presented by Steinhoff International in Pretoria. Now, over 50 days and 28 games later, only four teams remain in the running for the bragging rights of 2016 Champions.
FNB Tuks (4th Place)
The two-time champions opened the tournament in Pretoria against FNB Pukke, but failed to capitalise on several opportunities to lose 38-15. Eager to put the poor start behind them, FNB Tuks began their Round Two clash against defending champions, FNB Shimlas, strongly and held an impressive 43-15 lead after 43 minutes. However, the Pretoria side leaked four tries in the remaining 37 minutes to lose their second home match of the season 47-46. Things only got worse for FNB Tuks, as a 29-16 defeat in Stellenbosch not only meant the men from Pretoria were rooted at the bottom of the log with four games to go.
Using a two-week break after Round Three to remedy their defensive shortcoming, FNB Tuks could now score brilliant tries and prevent the opposition from scoring their own. A resounding 43-8 victory over a strong FNB UJ outfit in Round Four marked their first victory of the season, with 68-25, 45-23, and 100-25 wins over FNB CUT, FNB Madibaz, and FNB UCT respectively to follow. After conceding 13 tries in their first three games, FNB Tuks only leaked 10 tries in their last four, while also scoring the most tries in the tournament so far (38).
If FNB Tuks manage to keep their improved defence intact, and maintain their try-scoring abilities, they will be well placed to upset table-topping FNB Maties in the semi-final at Stellenbosch next Monday.
FNB Pukke (3rd Place)
FNB Pukke announced themselves as genuine title contenders as early as the first round with an impressive 38-15 victory over FNB Tuks in Pretoria. But they stumbled the following week when faced with an unyielding FNB UJ defence. This defence, coupled with FNB Pukke’s ill discipline, meant they fell to a 36-31 defeat.
Learning from their mistakes, FNB Pukke overcame FNB UCT and FNB Madibaz 22-6 and 46-18 respectively. However, they came up short against a formidable FNB Maties side as they were thrashed 56-12 – with their backline again becoming frustrated when met with competent defence.
A 44-14 win over FNB CUT the following week set up their last game against FNB Shimlas as a “quarter-final”, with the winner making the semi-finals and the loser missing out. While both side’s attacking abilities proved to be fairly matches, it was FNB Pukke’s defence that earned them a 37-21 win and a semi-final spot.
FNB Pukke will now face FNB UJ in Johannesburg next Monday, but this time they will be hoping their discipline holds up. If it does, they should expect to play in their third consecutive final.
FNB UJ (2nd Place)
Heavy rain in their opening clash against FNB NMMU in Port Elizabeth meant FNB UJ – not for the first time – would rely on the trusty boot of flyhalf, Divan Nel, to secure a 19-12 victory. Their unwavering defence kept the dangerous FNB Pukke at bay in Round Two as Nel would contribute 15 points in a 36-31 win.
A weak 14-0 victory against FNB CUT in Round Three, before being completely outclassed by a revitalised FNB Tuks in a 43-8 demolition the following round, didn’t give a lot of supporters hope as the Johannesburg side still had to face both FNB Shimlas and FNB Maties.
After scoring on seven tries in their first four matches, FNB UJ finally seemed to have addressed their attacking limitations with a powerful 72-49 victory over a defensively flawed FNB Shimlas. Following that campaign-defining victory with a 63-0 win over the increasingly deteriorating FNB UCT, FNB UJ now had to overcome the undefeated FNB Maties to secure a home semi-final. FNB Maties, already assured of top spot, fielded a second strong side and all but handed FNB UJ second place with a 42-16 victory.
FNB UJ will now host FNB Pukke in the first semi-final next Monday, and will hope to repeat their Round Two heroics to make their first ever final. However, FNB Pukke’s improved defence will prove far more challenging than that of FNB UCT, FNB Shimlas, and a second rate FNB Maties. Nel will have to once again be flawless from the kicking tee if they are to make history.
FNB Maties (1st Place)
A 40-0 win over FNB CUT in Stellenbosch made several opposition coaches take notice as FNB Maties set their sights on glory. Ill-discipline the following week in Port Elizabeth nearly handed FNB NMMU a famous victory, but a 13-man FNB Maties scored at the death to hold onto a 27-25 win.
Arguably, FNB Maties’ first real test came in the form of FNB Tuks, in Round Three in Stellenbosch. The home side simply outplayed the visitors in a 29-16 win, which was followed by a 60-13 demolition of arch-rivals, FNB UCT.
Round Five witnessed their finest victory, as they ran riot to overcome FNB Pukke, 56-12. A 35-14 win over FNB Shimlas later that week secured top spot for the Stellenbosch side and guaranteed them a home semi-final. In light of this, FNB Maties coach, Hawies Fourie, opted to make 13 changes to his starting XV to rest his first choice players. The result was their first defeat at the hands of FNB UJ as they went down 42-16.
From the word go, FNB Maties have been racing to the playoffs at an unprecedented speed, and their decision to rest several key players in the final round may have cost them an unbeaten run, but ultimately strengthened their chances of winning the tournament for the first time since 2010. Anything less will be considered a shocking upset no matter how you look at it.
By Joshua Brown