Home ground favours Tuks
After a scintillating season by all the participating teams, two teams have always stood out from the rest, and come Monday, April 17 only one will reign supreme when UP-Tuks host Maties in the Final in Pretoria.
Maties are forced to travel and vie for the title in the enemy's camp. The Maroon Machine has been in stellar form, but heading up to Tuks' stomping ground could bring up past ghosts for the side who suffered a narrow 6-7 defeat against NWU-Pukke in last year's Final.
History will also favour the UP-Tuks, the Pretoria-based side has already beaten Maties in two previous Finals. In 2012 they secured a 29-21 victory, while in 2013 they cruised to a 44-5 win.
However, Tuks would be wary not to rest on their laurels, especially with their recent major scare in the semifinals against Shimlas. Tuks went into the game as clear favourites and took a 21-9 lead at the break but a magnificent second-half performance by Shimlas showed the vulnerability of Tuks' defence and the hosts escaped with a 28-21 win.
Despite the difference of opinion amongst the Varsity Cup coaches, one thing they all agree on was that this is going to be a highly-contested Final.
Three of the coaches credited home ground advantage to be the only deciding factor between a loss and a victory.
"Home ground advantage plays a huge part in the Final, if the Final were to be played in Stellenbosch I would have selected Maties, but because it is played in Pretoria which made me think Tuks are going to win.
"Tuks have been good all season, they are more stable and settled in key position especially with captain Andre Warner's commanding presence and his halfback partner Tinus De Beer controlling the game," Wits head coach Hugo van As told rugby365.com
NMMU-Madibaz head coach David Maidza stated: "I don’t want to put my eggs in one basket, I think it is going to be a close one. Both teams are sharp. Their quality throughout the campaign has been phenomenal.
"Tuks started slowly but gradually came into the rhythm of things and I think they finishing off very well. Home advantage to Tuks will probably play a part in the result, but you have to keep in mind that it’s a Final and anything can happen."
Maties' semifinal opponents UJ head coach Werner Janse van Rensburg said: "Both teams are amazing it a very difficult one to call. But it does help to take on Maties away from home.
"Furthermore, Tuks has a slight edge over Maties, they have been travelling less ahead of the finals and in front of home crowd support, they are ruthless,
"The thing with Tuks is that when they start to get physical on the day, it becomes really difficult to beat them. Whereas with Maties, when the game is loose and flows then you have trouble containing them because that gives the backline chance to start getting into the game,
"However I am leaning towards Tuks."
Having beaten Maties in last year's final, NWU-Pukke coach Jonathan Mokuena backed Tuks to seal the win and has urged Poter Human's side not to change anything ahead of the crucial encounter.
"It is difficult one to call, both teams plays phenomenal rugby. Maties are in the final for the second consecutive year, but Tuks have been keeping up with them and if I have to pick a team – I have to go with Tukkies," Mokuena stated.
"The one area were Tukkies will definitely attack Maties is with their forward pack. Tukkies are scrumming really well at the moment, however, Maties have that ability to break teams apart and that back three – Duncan Saal, Craig Barry, Edwill van der Merwe – can really punish you.
"My heart says Tukkies. They should just stick with what they have been doing all season, there is no need to change things now, especially not in the final."
Meanwhile, Maties' neighbour UCT-Ikey Tigers head coach Chirstiaan Esterhuizen believes that Maties will avenge their Round one 9-13 defeat against Tuks and will hoist the trophy come April 17.
"I think Maties will take it," Esterhuizen told rugby365.com without any hesitation.
"We played against both teams but I just think Maties are a better side all round, they have a great attack but also have great defensive prowess.
"They have proven it throughout the season that they are good and I think they will win it," he added.
By Leezil Hendricks