ROAD TO THE FINAL: UP-TUKS
FNB UP-Tuks had one blip during their FNB Varsity Cup campaign but, if anything, it should confirm that they can do the unexpected in the final.
UP-Tuks began their season with a comfortable 23-6 win over FNB CUT Ixias at home. It took a while for Nollis Marais’ boys to get going but once they did they ran in three tries and put up a strong defensive performance.
Round Two saw the ‘Stripe Generation’ make the short trip down the N1 to face FNB UJ – three-time consecutive semifinalists. UP-Tuks ran in six tries to UJ’s two and triumphed 40-19 to put themselves in confident mood ahead of the top-of-the table clash against FNB Maties.
That Round 3 clash lived up to it’s billing as the momentum see-sawed at Tuks Stadium, but in the end Maties held on for a 26-24 win thanks to four tries to three.
UP-Tuks returned to winning ways in Round 4, though, when they hammered FNB Wits 46-12. In reality it was much tougher than the scoreline suggested. At halftime, UP-Tuks only led 13-12, but then stern words from coach Marais prompted them to score five unanswered tries (seven in the match) to romp away.
Come Round 5, away at FNB UWC, UP-Tuks were finding their best form and thrashed the Varsity Cup first years 70-12. Tinus de Beer put on a kicking masterclass as he converted all 10 tries. Apart from a Johan Grobbelaar double, the tries were shared between backs and forwards in what was as good an all-round team performance as could be wanted.
FNB UFS Shimlas awaited UP-Tuks in Bloemfontein in Round 6 but could not thwart them. They edged the try count three to two and de Beer did the rest with his boot to seal the 27-14 win.
FNB NWU Pukke were expected to present a far tougher foe in Round 7 but UP-Tuks silenced the crowd in Potchefstroom with a composed, error-free performance. Captain Marius Verwey led his team to the only shutout of the entire Varsity Cup season, with the 28-0 win laying down a marker ahead of their likely rematch in the semifinals.
All that was left was for UP-Tuks to make sure of a home semifinal but they had to show character in Round 8 to do so against an FNB UCT Ikey Tigers team still trying to sneak into the playoffs. Ikey Tigers raced into a 26-0 halftime lead. However, UP-Tuks fought back during a second half halted at one stage by the teeming rain and lightning, and claimed a 26-all draw in the final minute. In the process they secured a semifinal at Tuks Stadium – but only after a Round 9 bye.
Marais’ charges looked all the better for the week off when they took on NWU Pukke on Monday, and thwarted their second half comeback to win 24-18 (with De Beer becoming the top scorer in Varsity Cup history) and set up a fourth final against Maties – the previous three they’ve all won.
UP-TUKS’ 2019 RESULTS
Round 1: UP-Tuks 23 CUT Ixias 6
Round 2: UJ 6 UP-Tuks 23
Round 3: UP-Tuks 24 Maties 26
Round 4: UP-Tuks 46 Wits 12
Round 5: UWC 12 UP-Tuks 70
Round 6: UFS Shimlas 14 UP-Tuks 27
Round 7: NWU Pukke 0 UP-Tuks 28
Round 8: UP-Tuks 26 UCT Ikey Tigers 26
Round 9: bye
Semifinal: UP-Tuks 24 NWU Pukke 18