FNB UP-Tuks survived a second-half fightback from FNB UCT to claim a 34-27 victory in the FNB Varsity Cup final at Tuks Stadium on Monday night.
It is Tuks’ fourth title, having previously won the competition in 2012, 2013 and 2017.
FNB UCT came into the decider on a nine-match winning streak, excluding their cancelled Round 6 fixture against FNB UP-Tuks, who suffered two defeats during the league stage of the tournament. But it was the hosts who won when it mattered most.
The opening 15 minutes of the final saw the heavies run into wall after wall of defence, before FNB UP-Tuks prop Cebo Dlamini barged his way over the tryline. Ikeys counterpart Robert Hunt returned the favour in similar fashion eight minutes later.
Fullback Zander du Plessis and flyhalf James Tedder converted their respective efforts before an uncharacteristic error by the FNB UCT backs was scooped up by pivot David Coetzer. The ball was shifted into the breadbasket of FNB UP-Tuks captain and inside centre Sango Xamlashe, who tore down the left touchline to score a point-of-origin try.
Tedder cut into the deficit with a penalty goal just before the strategy break to keep FNB UCT within touching distance.
The break proved effective if only to dull the match as a point-scoring lapse followed directly afterwards with the Ikey Tigers attempting to put together phase after phase against a resolute FNB UP-Tuks defence.
A snap decision by FNB UP-Tuks replacement scrumhalf Johan Mulder to snipe around the edge of a ruck was a masterstroke as it resulted in a try to lion-hearted prop Etienne Janeke several phases later.
Tedder left the field with a knee injury shortly afterwards to the collective groan of Cape Town.
Carrying the underdog tag throughout the weekend allowed the Stripe Generation a touch more freedom to just go and play, and it resulted in yet another try after the first half hooter to flank Hanru Sirgel. Du Plessis added the extras as FNB UP-Tuks enjoyed a 31-10 half-time led.
The Ikey Tigers' ears should have been ringing after a tongue lashing due to their lacklustre performance in the first stanza and it took just three minutes for lock Byron Cranswick to profit off a powerful drive to score a try. Replacement flyhalf David Hayes was on target with the extras.
However, it was the FNB UP-Tuks forwards who dominated, forcing FNB UCT to lose six lineouts while the hosts jackled five balls by the 66th minute.
The Ikey Tigers finally took their opportunity as close-quarter fighting was whipped out wide to fullback Athi Gazi, who scored in the left corner. FNB UP-Tuks No 8 Jaco Bezuidenhout was shown a yellow for cynical play, leaving the men from Pretoria to scramble in the final minutes.
Despite facing immense pressure on defence, Tukkies earned a penalty attempt which Griquas-bound Du Plessis slotted with ease, before Gazi bagged his brace.
That ultimately proved to be a consolation try as FNB UP-Tuks were crowned 2021 champions.
FNB Player That Rocks: Etienne Janeke (FNB UP-Tuks)
FNB UCT Ikeys – Tries: Robert Hunt, Byron Chanswick, Athi Gazi (2). Conversions: James Tedder, David Hayes. Penalty: Tedder.
FNB UP-Tuks – Tries: Cebo Dlamini, Sango Xamlashe (1x7), Etienne Janeke, Hanru Sirgel. Conversions: Zander du Plessis (3). Penalty: Du Plessis (2).
FNB UCT Ikeys – 15 Athi Gazi, 14 Rihaz Fredericks, 13 Evardi Boshoff, 12 Le Roux Malan, 11 Rethabile Louw, 10 James Tedder, 9 William Rose, 8 Christian Stehlik, 7 Niel Otto, 6 Liam Greenhalgh (c), 5 Gary Porter, 4 Byron Cranswick, 3 Robert Hunt, 2 Devon Arendse, 1 Luthando Woji.
Subs: 16 Josh van Vuuren, 17 Seth Christian, 18 Ashwyn Adams, 19 Byron Bowes, 20 Taariq Kruger, 21 Kyle Bowman, 22 David Hayes, 23 Duran Koevort.
FNB UP-Tuks – 15 Zander du Plessis, 14 Stefan Coetzee, 13 Sango Xamlashe (c), 12 Louritz van der Schyff, 11 Ambesa Zenzeli, 10 David Coetzer, 9 Clyde Lewis, 8 Jaco Bezuidenhout, 7 Hanru Sirgel, 6 Eduan Lubbe, 5 Thomas Meyer, 4 Mihlali Stamper, 3 Damien Swartz, 2 Werner Fourie, 1 Cebo Dlamini.
Subs: 16 Llewellyn Classen, 17 Dewald Donald, 18 Etienne Janeke, 19 Orateng Koikanyang, 20 Stephan Smit, 21 Johan Mulder, 22 Enrique Oranje, 23 Tharquin Manuel.