Varsity Cup giantkillers FNB NMMU are not called that for nothing. Coming from behind, they gave FNB UP-Tuks a torrid time before going down 31-42 in a Round Six match in Pretoria that produced 11 tries.
Although UP-Tuks rarely looked as I they would lose the match, the visitors showed resilience on defence and purpose on attack and were especially threatening in the second quarter and just after the break, when they trailed 10-24 and seemed hopelessly out of the contest.
Tuks again struggled in the scrums, although their line-outs were much improved from recent outings. And even in the absence of four players who were doing duty in the Blue Bulls Vodacom squad, they were that little more polished and assured than the visitors.
Flyhalf Willie du Plessis - filling in for Vodacom Cup No 10 Wesley Dunlop - had an outstanding game with some good goalkicking and impressed with the way in which he got his line moving and relieved pressure when necessary.
Tuks took off with purpose as they ran up a 16-0 lead in the first quarter. But they did not bargain on the resilience of NMMU .
Their first try by flanker Jacques Verwey and the conversion by flyhalf Du Plessis put them 8-0 up after just five minutes, and when wing Hayden Groepes went over after 18 minutes for a try that was again converted by Du Plessis, it seemed like a runaway score was on the cards. However, a try three minutes later by NMMU centre Howard Mnisi pulled his side back into the race and when wing Mayibuye Ndwandwa scored after 31 minutes, Tuks realised that the game was not just theirs for the taking.
Both NMMU tries were, however, unconverted, and the visitors' resurgence in the first 12 minutes or so of the second quarter came to an end as UP-Tuks scored a third converted try though replacement prop Juan Schoeman to make it 24-10, which was the halftime score.
No points came in the first 13 minutes after the break. NMMU were committed in defence and threatening on attack before scrumhalf Clayton Stewart could make the first second-half breach. With Du Plessis again converting and the score at 32-10, it seemed all over for NMMU.
But NMMU's commitment paid off when hooker Martin Ferreira's try, and the conversion by Martin du Toit, kept them in the hunt at 32-18 after 56 minutes.
It became a real contest when Du Toit went over nine minutes after the strategy break and converted to bring his side to within a single score at 32-26. With 11 minutes left on the clock, serious questions were being asked of the Tuks team without their stars.
However, five minutes later former Blue Bulls - and SA Sevens - ace Okkie Kruger, the eventual Player that Rocks, took the match away from a brave NMMU when he increased the lead to 37-26, with Du Plessis missing his first conversion from five.
Dabeon Draghoender's try three minutes later put the result beyond doubt at 42-26 - although the visitors had the last say with flanker André Goosen scoring in the final minute.
Tries: Verwey, Groepes, Schoeman, Stewart, Kruger, Draghoender
Cons: Du Plessis 4
Tries: Mnisi, Ndwandwa, Ferreira, Du Toit, Goosen
Cons: Du Toit 2
UP-TUKS: 15 Wynand Pienaar, 14 Deon Helberg, 13 Jerome Pretorius, 12 Dabeon Draghoender, 11 Hayden Groepes, 10 Willie du Plessis, 9 Clayton Stewart, 8 Okkie Kruger, 7 Daniel Adongo, 6 Jacques Verwey, 5 Sthembiso Mlongo, 4 Mike Williams, 3 Grant Kemp, 2 Zane Botha (captain), 1 Sabelo Nhlapo.
Replacements: 16 Kurt Haupt, 17 Juan Schoeman, 18 Nqubeko Zulu, 19 Wiaan Liebenberg, 20 Rudi van Rooyen, 21 Fanie Booysen, 22 Courtnal Skousan, 23 Basil Short.
NMMU: 15 Martin du Toit, 14 Mayibuye Ndwandwa, 13 Quinton Crocker (vice-captain), 12 Howard Mnisi, 11 Eckard Jacobs, 10 Bradley Kretzman, 9 Anton Verster, 8 Jaco Swanepoel (captain), 7 André Goosen, 6 Ulrich Pretorius, 5 Mzwanele Zito, 4 Schalk Oelofse, 3 Dexter Fahey, 2 Martin Ferreira, 1 Gareth Hartley.
Replacements: 16 Kobus Greeff, 17 Roy Godfrey, 18 Timothy Agaba, 19 Thomasau Forbes, 20 Marlin Ruiters, 21 Carl van Niekerk, 22 Devon Lailvaux, 23 Phillip Nell.
Referee: Pro Legoete