PREVIEW: Varsity Cup Final
SPOTLIGHT: Unbeaten UCT will go into Monday’s decider as favourites, but UP-Tuks appear to be peaking at the right time of the tournament.
The two teams will finally meet in this year’s Varsity Cup after their Round Six clash was cancelled following three Covid-19 positive tests in the hosts’ camp. At that stage, the Ikey Tigers had won their first five matches and were expected to beat a Tukkies team that had lost to Maties.
UCT went on to top the Varsity Cup log for the first time since the inaugural tournament in 2008, with eight wins from eight completed matches, while UP-Tuks finished third after losing to CUT in their final league-stage fixture.
However, Tukkies’ impressive 44-35 semifinal win against Maties suggests they are ready to ambush UCT in the final.
“That was our best performance this season and exactly how we want to play,” UP-Tuks coach Nico Luus told VarsityCup.co.za. “There is a belief in the team now that was perhaps lacking during the second bubble and I can’t wait for the final.”
The Ikey Tigers made a nervous start to their semifinal against the NWU Eagles, falling 15-0 behind after as many minutes, before scoring eight tries to win 54-36.
“We hadn’t played in a semifinal for six years so I expected the guys to be nervous,” says UCT coach Tom Dawson-Squibb. “We saw that with a couple of glaring errors early on when covering our backfield. But from the 15-minute mark, we were almost flawless in that area of the game. So I’m really happy with how we were able to adapt and once we got our attacking game going, we looked really good.”
The Ikey Tigers suffered a big blow just before kick-off when star flyhalf James Tedder was ruled out of the semifinal having failed to recover from a concussion, but Tedder’s replacement, David Hayes, more than filled his boots to win the Player That Rocks award.
“David’s actually played a lot of rugby during this tournament, so we were less worried about losing James than some outside of the camp,” says Dawson-Squibb.
“James has been targeted during the tournament, which is what happened when he got a high shot against the Madibaz, so we’ve often replaced him with David during a game.”
Dawson-Squibb says it’s touch and go as to whether Tedder will be fit for the final.
“James will have to pass a fitness test, so we will probably make a decision in the hours leading up to the game.”
UCT have “massive respect” for UP-Tuks, according to Dawson-Squibb.
“They were the pre-tournament favourites, playing at home and with massive resources, which we’ve all seen while staying here over the past couple of months. They’re a physical, well-drilled side with a former Springbok defence coach [John McFarland].”
So where will Monday’s final be won and lost?
“It’s no secret that both teams use their kicking games quite cleverly, but I think it will come down to the balance between physicality and tempo,” says Dawson-Squibb. “Tuks want to bash you into smithereens but they do it at a good pace. We’ve got to handle that and move them around the field. We believe in ourselves and are very confident in our game plan.”
“We expect a physical game and we will be physical,” says Luus. “We will also rely a lot on [fullback] Zander du Plessis and [flyhalf] David Coetzer as far as our kicking game is concerned. But I believe the final will be determined by small margins.”
FACTS & STATS
This is a repeat of the 2011 final, which UCT won 26-16 at Tuks Stadium. The Ikey Tigers’ other Varsity Cup title came in 2014, while Tukkies lifted the trophy in 2012, 2013 and 2017.
UCT come into the 2021 final unbeaten. It is the third consecutive Varsity Cup that a team enters the final unbeaten, with Maties having gone on to win the title in both 2018 and 2019.
The home team has won eight of the previous 12 Varsity Cup finals, including the last three. The last time the away team won the final was when NWU beat Maties at the Danie Craven Stadium in 2016. Both of UCT’s Varsity Cup titles were won away from home.
UCT are on a nine-game winning run in the Varsity Cup (excluding the cancelled fixture against UP-Tuks), their longest in the history of the tournament.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Flyhalf James Tedder was a late withdrawal from the Ikeys lineup before their semifinal after failing to recover from a concussion sustained from a high tackle during their last league-stage match against the Madibaz. Tedder is the second top-point scorer in the tournament (105) and his tactical kicking and game management have been crucial for his team. Fortunately for UCT, they have a more than capable replacement in David Hayes, who won the Player That Rocks award after their semifinal win against NWU.
UP-Tuks fullback Zander du Plessis broke UCT flyhalf Demetri Catrakilis’ record of 136 points in a Varsity Cup season during their semifinal against Maties and will go into Monday’s decider with his tally on 145. If the final is tight, the 21-year-old’s boot could be decisive.
ROAD TO THE FINAL
Beat Maties 26-20
Beat Wits 40-22
Beat UJ 39-34
Beat UFS Shimlas 59-5
Beat CUT Ixias 76-5
Drew with UP-Tuks 0-0 (match cancelled)
Beat UWC 58-55
Beat NWU Eagles 42-36
Beat Madibaz 34-23
Beat NWU Eagles 54-36 (semifinal)
Beat Wits 48-25
Beat UJ 47-19
Beat NWU Eagles 33-15
Lost to Maties 24-31
Beat UWC 31-25
Drew with UCT Ikeys 0-0 (match cancelled)
Beat UFS Shimlas 42-39
Beat Madibaz 75-0
Lost to CUT Ixias 40-41
Beat Maties 44-35 (semifinal)