FNB Maties v NWU Pukke | Monday 11 April | Danie Craven Stadium | 18:30
Another week of exhilarating action is in-store for rugby fans, and our first port of call this week is the Varsity Cup.
The first Fixture of the day will see UCT and UWC go head to head in the promotion/relegation playoff at the Danie Craven Stadium in Stellenbosch. Table-toppers Maties will then square off with Pukke in the Varsity Cup final which kick's off at 18:30.
With both finalists playing attractive brands of rugby and a fever pitch crowd expected to turn out in Stellenbosch, we should be in for an absolutely cracking final.
To Win (80 Mins)
Maties 1/6 | Draw 28/1| Pukke 4/1
Maties (-12.5) 17/20 | Pukke (+12.5) 17/20
The men from Stellenbosch will be aiming to secure the sought after Varsity Cup for the fourth time in their history this Monday. Their last successful tilt at the title came way back in 2010 where they edged out UCT by 17 points to 14 in a dramatic final.
It’s been a case of near misses from the Stellenbosch side from then on in. They made it to the final in 2012 and 2013 but fell at the last hurdle going down to Tuks on both occasions.
Those losses may well be playing on the minds of the Maties. While not many of their current playing squad were involved in those two final defeats, there must surely still be some nerves running through the camp.
Despite the Maties boys recent history of losing finals, they will still come into this one as strong favourites. They’ve enjoyed a fantastic season, only losing a solitary fixture on their run to the final. That defeat came due to them fielding a second string side so as to give their first team stalwarts a rest before the knockout phase of the tournament.
While they’ve enjoyed a great season thus far, skipper Beyers de Villiers has warned his side that their job is far from done. Speaking after last week’s 49-11, the burly flanker stated “We haven’t won anything yet, we are one step closer to the title but beating Tuks doesn’t mean we have won the trophy, our job is far from done,”. Wise words from a very mature young lad.
I can’t really single out one Maties player to watch out for. Rather keep your eyes open for their back three of fullback Craig Barry and wingers Brandon Asher-Wood and Edwill van der Merve. All three players are capable of running in a long range try.
The men from North West University will be looking to right the wrongs of the past when they take to the Danie Craven field today. This will be their fourth appearance in a Varsity Cup final. All their previous showpiece outings have resulted in defeat however, the heaviest of which came in last year’s final where they went down to Shimlas by 30 points.
So how do Pukke go from being bridesmaids to brides? Well, they are going to need to ensure that they don’t capitulate as they did in 2014. Having taken a 33-15 lead into the final five minutes against Ikeys, the Pukke boys put in a masterclass display of how to lose a game from a winning position. When all was said and done, their opponents had won the game by 39-33 and Pukke were left to rue their lackadaisical defending.
Pukke head coach Jonathon Mokoena will be doing his utmost to ensure his side don’t make the same mistakes this time around and finally get that elusive first Varsity Cup their belts. He will be hard tasked to achieve this however, as his side are coming up against a Maties outfit that has been in devastating form this term.
The only way I can see Pukke achieving their first victory in a Varsity Cup final is if their backline fires. They have some of the tournament’s most skillful backs turning out for them. The likes of Rhyno Smith. Lucian Cupido, and Sylvian Mahuza have scored some stunning tries this term. They will need to reproduce those moments of magic today if they are to upset the applecart and bag their first piece of silverware.
Verdict: Pukke (+12.5) 17/20
While Maties did hammer Pukke by 44 points in the round-robin phase of the tournament, I expect this game to end with a much tighter scoreline. I think Maties will cap their season off with a final victory but I suspect they may struggle to clear the -12.5 handicap. For the punter who likes a sure thing, I suggest backing Maties to win the game inside 80 minutes at 1/6. For those in search of more value, take Pukke to stay within the +12.5 margin at 17/20.