FNB Varsity Cup
FNB UFS Shimlas’ running game will be put to the test against a more pragmatic FNB UP-Tuks outfit, while the expansive FNB UCT Ikeys will be similarly challenged by rivals FNB Maties.
FNB UFS Shimlas and FNB UCT Ikeys have been the strongest teams over the course of the tournament and deserved to finish the league stage at one and two on the log.
If all goes to plan, the two most expansive sides in the FNB Varsity Cup will meet in next week’s final.
It would be interesting to see if both sides persisted with their respective game plans in a decider, or whether they attempted to play with more balance in order to clinch a trophy.
Perhaps we will receive some answers this week when both teams compete in the semi-finals.
The result, rather than the quest for four tries, is all that matters at this stage of the tournament.
The Ikey Tigers made a statement when they beat FNB Maties 44-27 on the Green Mile in round seven and may feel like they’re the favourites heading into a semi-final showdown with their archrivals.
They’ve produced many spectacular come-from-behind performances over the course of the 2022 season – which is a testament to their character as well as their conditioning – and have cause to believe that they can chase a game, no matter the situation.
And yet, one has to ask why they have struggled to control so many games in the initial stages, and why they find themselves in these positions so often.
Their forwards in particular will have a big point to prove in the coming playoff.
FNB Maties will look to their pack to pressure the hosts. They boast an impressive scrum and maul, and have been accurate in the red zone – as illustrated by hooker Sean Swart’s tally of nine tries in 2022.
The students from Stellenbosch will also have a point to prove. They weren’t at their best in the recent clash against FNB UWC and will need to make a step up on defence if they’re going to contain a multi-faceted Ikey Tigers attack.
They will be mindful of what transpired in the last fixture on the Green Mile. At one point, they appeared on course for a victory. In the blink of an eye, the Ikey Tigers scored two tries and FNB Maties failed to claim so much as a losing bonus point.
Flyhalf Adriaan van der Bank was one of the star performers during the first half of that derby. Unfortunately for FNB Maties, Van der Bank will be unavailable for the semi-final rematch.
Nevaldo Fleurs will be tasked with implementing a kicking game that can put FNB UCT under pressure. If the FNB Maties pack fails to fire, and if the visitors kick poorly, they will be chasing Tiger tails for 80 minutes.
FNB UCT IKEYS vs FNB MATIES (Monday, 16:30, UCT Rugby Fields, SuperSport channel 211)
FNB UCT Ikeys – 15 Duran Koevort, 14 Rihaz Fredericks, 13 Suleiman Hartzenberg, 12 Rethabile Louw, 11 Ntokozo Makhaza, 10 David Hayes, 9 William Rose, 8 Taariq Kruger, 7 Thomas Meyer, 6 Sipho Dyonase, 5 Reynhardt Crous, 4 Conor Evans, 3 Keagan Glade, 2 Keagan Blanckenberg, 1 Luthando Woji (c). Subs: 16 Alex Castle, 17 Lukhanyiso Bomela, 18 Alizwa Mngqeta, 19 Mika Schubert, 20 Jason MacLeod Smith, 21 Imad Khan, 22 Kian Davis, 23 Athi Gazi.
FNB Maties – 15 Sibabalwe Xamlashe, 14 Marcqiewn Titus, 13 Waqar Solaan, 12 Taigh Schoor, 11 Anton du Toit, 10 Nevaldo Fleurs, 9 Thomas Bursey, 8 Simon Miller, 7 De Wet Marais, 6 Gift Dlamini (c), 5 Matt Gray, 4 Juan Beukes, 3 Matimu Manganyi, 2 Sean Swart, 1 Vernon Matongo. Subs: 16 Chris Rossouw, 17 Rhynardt Rijnsburger, 18 Friedrich Weilbach, 19 Jesse Johnson, 20 Louw Nel, 21 Mckyle Volmoer, 22 Brendan Venter, 23 Mike Mavovana.
Will the FNB Varsity Cup title change hands? It seems likely, given the performances across the round-robin stage.
FNB UP-Tuks have been victims of their own success. Shortly after they won the 2021 final, a host of top players were contracted by professional teams at home and abroad.
The class of 2022 is younger and inexperienced, and the performances have been far from clinical.
And yet, they have the template to win big games where the result rather than the quest for four-try bonus points is the priority. Over the past few weeks, their pack has started to find form.
They boast strong kicking options at scrumhalf, flyhalf and fullback, and will be looking to maximise those strengths in the coming clash against FNB UFS Shimlas. They also possess the finest defensive system in the tournament and have conceded only 172 points in nine matches.
A good kicking game complemented by a strong defensive system is typically a recipe for success in knockout rugby. FNB UFS Shimlas, however, are not your typical team.
André Tredoux’s charges have relied on the skills of their forwards, the sharp decision-making of their halfbacks – George Lourens has been one of the stars of the tournament – and the speed of their back division to play an exhilarating brand of attacking rugby.
The introduction of Swys de Bruin as the director of rugby has also had an impact on the team’s mindset. The FNB UFS Shimlas want to win the FNB Varsity Cup title by playing bold, adventurous rugby.
To be fair, they wouldn't be such a potent attacking force without the efforts of their forwards.
FNB UFS Shimlas have the means to boss FNB UP-Tuks at the scrum this Monday, and will contest fiercely from the lineouts. And when they start to counter-attack, the skills of forwards such as Thabang Mahlasi and Thabo Ndimande will come to the fore.
It remains to be seen whether FNB UP-Tuks will keep this threat at bay over a period of 80 minutes.
When these teams last met in round eight, FNB UFS Shimlas scored four tries. What’s more, their attack managed to fire in spite of the wet and challenging conditions.
FNB UP-Tuks will make a statement regarding their championship credentials if they contain that attack and emerge victorious.
The smart money, however, is on FNB UFS Shimlas securing the result as well as home advantage for the final.
FNB UFS SHIMLAS vs FNB UP-TUKS (Monday, 19:00, Shimla Park, SuperSport channel 211)
FNB UFS Shimlas – 15 Litha Nkula, 14 Zane Bester, 13 Janco van Heyningen, 12 Jooste Nel, 11 Asanda Kunene, 10 George Lourens, 9 Chadd Adams, 8 Ruwald van der Merwe, 7 Lourens Oosthuizen, 6 Thabo Ndimande, 5 Thabang Mahlasi (c), 4 Pierre Uys, 3 Blaine Golden, 2 Carl Wijburg, 1 Melusi Mthabela. Subs: 16 Wihan Marais, 17 Loyiso Peteni, 18 Jan Meades, 19 Nathan Jordan, 20 Reinier Viljoen, 21 Jandré Nel, 22 Kwezi Dlamini, 23 Luthando Buthelezi.
FNB UP-Tuks – 15 Stefan Coetzee, 14 Kabelo Mokoena, 13 Zander Reynders, 12 Lincoln Daniels (c), 11 Tharquinn Manuel, 10 Walter Visser, 9 Bernard van der Linde, 8 Orateng Koikanyang, 7 Stephan Smit, 6 Dian Schoonees, 5 Divan Venter, 4 Mihlali Stamper, 3 Francois Klopper, 2 Allister Williams, 1 Ethan Burger. Subs: 16 Werner Fourie, 17 Andre van der Merwe, 18 Daniël Wessels, 19 Kabasele Nkombua, 20 Hilton Gie, 21 Clyde Lewis, 22 Keane Galant, 23 Ambesa Zenzile.
NOTE: Teams are supplied by the universities and are subject to change
Photos: Zaahid Appoles/Hannes Naude/Varsity Cup