PREVIEW: Varsity Cup, Round Eight
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: To a large degree Round Eight of this year’s FNB Varsity Cup will be ‘judgment day’, so who will state their cases best?
FNB UP-TUKS VS FNB UCT IKEY TIGERS
(Tuks Stadium – Kick-off: 16:45)
FNB UCT Ikey Tigers stumbled last week when they would have expected to beat FNB UJ, and this week their (crumbling) road to the play-offs takes them to Tuks Stadium in Pretoria.
Hosts FNB UP-Tuks sealed their play-off place while convincingly beating fellow challengers FNB NWU Pukke last Monday, but won’t be doing the Capetonians any favours in Round Eight’s early kick-off. Apart from wanting to make absolutely certain of a home semifinal, UP-Tuks will be the first team to complete their regular season.
As such, Nollis Marais’ charges will want their gameplan and execution to be dialled in before two weeks of inactivity or else they will worry about their form until the semifinals.
For their part, Christiaan Esterhuizen’s Ikey Tigers would love to act as spoilers but don’t need reminding that this is not the UP-Tuks they met in 2018, when they won for the first time since the 2011 final.
FNB CUT IXIAS VS FNB NWU PUKKE
(CUT Rugby Stadium – Kick-off: 18:30)
FNB CUT Ixias and FNB NWU Pukke had contrasting fortunes in Round Seven, which makes this fixture more unpredictable than it might otherwise have been.
The last thing third-placed Jonathan Mokuena’s NWU Pukke needed after a disappointing home loss is having to travel away. Even more so considering it’s to CUT Ixias’ home ground, where they broke their lengthy losing record against FNB UFS Shimlas – currently fifth.
This time around, Pieter Bergh won’t need to remind his players that they have yet to beat NWU Pukke since their promotion from the Varsity Shield in 2015 – in fact, the 7-70 thrashing CUT Ixias suffered last year arguably prompted his appointment. However, if they can conjure up another performance like last week, a first-ever play-off spot remains up for grabs.
That said, NWU Pukke have yet to seal their own semifinal place and will be desperate to regain momentum as they attempt to match their unexpected 2016 run to the title.
FNB WITS VS FNB UWC
(Wits Rugby Stadium – Kick-off: 18:30)
While this will be a first-ever FNB Varsity Cup meeting between these two teams, they have an established rivalry from their days in the second tier.
Even so, seventh-placed FNB Wits have by far the better record; of their nine previous clashes the Johannesburgers have won six, including the 2016 Varsity Shield final which sealed their promotion. FNB UWC’s lone victory came way back in 2011, while both 2015 meetings ended in draws.
Chester Williams’ visitors will be mindful that history will count for little on Monday, not even trying to avenge that 2016 Final loss. Instead, the boost from winning their maiden Varsity Cup match last week – even if they still prop up the table – should put them in a good frame of mind.
Wits, of course, had a similar morale-boosting result last time out (having not backed up last year’s run to the semis) and will play in front of their boisterous supporters for the last time this campaign.
Ultimately, this clash may come down to which team’s key players deliver decisive performances.
FNB UFS SHIMLAS VS FNB MATIES
(Shimla Park – Kick-off: 19:00)
The last team FNB UFS Shimlas would have wanted to play, a week after loosening their grip on a playoff place, is FNB Maties.
Hendro Scholtz’s charges have a few things things to cling onto going into Monday’s clash, though. Firstly, their fourth place means that their fate is still in their own hands. Then, they’re playing at Shimla Park, where they have managed to beat Maties twice before. As a bonus, Maties may well start the match ring-rusty having had their bye last week.
The facts, of course, are that defending champions Maties are six from six in 2019 – including wins over likeliest title challengers UP-Tuks and NWU Pukke – and are showing their strengths on attack and defence. Also, the years when they lost to Shimlas, 2011 and 2015, were the only seasons when they themselves didn’t reach the playoffs – which they already have.
Expect a spirited performance from the Shimlas in this late kickoff, but Hawies Fourie’s visitors to continue their unbeaten run.