Maties carrying the Cape's hopes
March 23, 2012

It's semifinals time in the 2012 Varsity Cup season, with matches taking place in Stellenbosch and Pretoria to determine who will take part in this year's final and, thus, succeed FNB UCT as champions.

With the Ikeys having been unable to qualify for the semifinals - for the first time ever - the hopes of the Cape rest heavily on the shoulders of the FNB Maties, with three teams from the north - FNB UJ, FNB UP-Tuks and FNB NWU-Pukke - looming large as first-time winners.

Former winners, the Maties, despite ending the league stage of the season unbeaten (the second time they have managed to do so in the Varsity Cup), finished in second place on the 2012 Varsity Cup log, with FNB UP-Tuks topping the log and FNB UJ ending in third place.

That means the Maties will host UJ in Stellenbosch in the first semifinal of the day, at 5:30pm (Live on SuperSport 1), followed by Monday's second semifinal between UP-Tuks and NWU-Pukke (who finished in fourth position) in Pretoria at 7:30pm.

Looking ahead to his team's fourth home semifinals in five years, Maties coach Chean Roux was in a relaxed frame of mind - even in light of the Men in Maroon's 10-10 draw against the selfsame UJ side earlier this week.

"There's no point suddenly trying to reinvent the wheel ahead of a big semifinal," said Roux.

"But just like we'd be stupid to change anything drastically, I don't see UJ changing too much either. They've got a good line-out, a strong set-piece in general, and the best defence in the tournament. They could easily have ended the league phase of the Varsity Cup unbeaten."

And on playing the same team just seven days later, Roux explained his thinking: "I'd much rather play a team that's still fresh in my mind than have to track back and dig up stuff on a team you last played in Round Two or Three.

"Pukke are on the upward curve, I think," added the Matie boss, "to me, they're the dangerous team in this tournament at present."


UJ coach Hugo van As has a similar view to Roux in terms of his pre-game preparation. The Men in Orange will not deviate much from the approach that brought them four wins and one draw - from seven matches - during the league stage of this tournament.

"What's happened up till now is in the past," said Van As, whose side topped the log last year before going down in the semifinals - at home - to UP-Tuks.

"Last week's game was very close and, in the end, nothing could separate the teams. I'm expecting the same on Monday and, as it's a semifinal, it will be about taking your chances. To me, the team that does so will make it to the final.

"One thing I've learnt from last year is that it's all about taken that one chance that could win you the game - no matter what," added Van As, when quizzed about UJ's 2011 playoff defeat.

"A playoff match can be over in the blink of an eye," he said, "there are no second chances, so you need to be prepared to take that match-winning opportunity if it presents itself."

If there are still any nerves left after the Maties-UJ semifinal, attention later in the day will shift to Pretoria when last year's losing finalists, UP-Tuks, and 2009 runners-up, NWU-Pukke, oppose each other at the Tuks Rugby Stadium.

Tuks booked a home semifinal - and the right to host the final should they qualify - thanks to a last-gasp four-try win over UCT this past Monday, but they will be up against a side that has not lost since February 20.

Ironically, Pukke's previous loss came at the hands of Tuks - a 20-40 reversal at the Tuks Rugby Stadium - but visiting coach Hannes Esterhuizen is relishing the opportunity of returning to Pretoria for a big knockout match.

Said Esterhuizen: "We're very happy making the short trip from Potchefstroom to Pretoria - a trip to the Cape, for instance, is quite a journey as you spend more time in the bus than you do in the aeroplane. It's not far for us to travel, so we're looking forward to it."

Some are tipping Pukke as the pre-final darkhorses, but Esterhuizen remained humble ahead of the playoffs - especially when questioned about their triumph in last year's National Club Championships.

"The Club Champs is history for us," he said. "In the Club Champs you need to come good four times in a week, whereas the Varsity Cup is a different kettle of fish. Here you need to come good week after week, after week... and that while you're still living a normal life in between. It's a whole new challenge for us - especially as half the current squad were not involved in the Club Champs.

"Of course, we'd naturally love to go all the way," added Esterhuizen, who has transformed his team's fortunes from last year - Pukke having finished sixth in 2011, even staring relegation in the face after losing their first five matches.

"It's a big opportunity for the players and they're all very excited about Monday. I think UP-Tuks are a very good team, but, then again, I think all four teams are in with a shout of lifting the trophy at this stage."


FNB Maties v FNB UJ
Danie Craven Stadium (Stellenbosch)
Kick-off: 5:30pm (Live on SuperSport 1)

Maties: 15 André Smith, 14 Ryan Nell, 13 Wessel Coetzee, 12 Louis Jordaan, 11 Dean Hammond, 10 André Kemp, 9 Boela Abrahams, 8 Grant Hattingh, 7 Helmut Lehmann (capt), 6 Sam Mabombo, 5 Hugo Kloppers, 4 Reniel Hugo, 3 Os Hamman, 2 Rob Herring, 1 Brummer Badenhorst.
Replacements: 16 Alfred Ries, 17 Alistair Vermaak, 18 JP Swanepoel, 19 Nicholas de Jager, 20 Donald Stevens, 21 Jarryd Buys, 22 Clearance Khumalo, 23 Hein van der Merwe.

UJ: 15 Worsie Kotze, 14 JR Esterhuizen, 13 Justin St. Jerry, 12 Luan Steenkamp, 11 Chrysander Botha, 10 Guy Cronjé, 9 Rudy Paige, 8 Justin Wheeler (capt), 7 Wendal Wehr, 6 Johan van Deventer, 5 Sebastian de Chaves, 4 Marnus van Huyssteen, 3 Heinrich Terblanche, 2 Francois du Toit, 1 Wessel du Rand.
Replacements: 16 Shaun Malton, 17 Ruan Dreyer, 18 Shane Kirkwood, 19 Jaco Kriel, 20 Jacques Pretorius, 21 Divan van Zyl, 22 Aubrey McDonald, 23 Jaco Vermeulen.

FNB UP-Tuks v FNB NWU-Pukke
Tuks Rugby Stadium (Pretoria)
Kick-off: 7:30pm (Live on SuperSport 1)

UP-Tuks: TBC.

NWU-Pukke: 15 SW Oosthuizen, 14 Andrew van Wyk, 13 Ruan Jacobs, 12 Joubert Engelbrecht (capt), 11 Joe Seerane, 10 Gerhard Nortier, 9 Tiaan Dorfling, 8 Spanner Pretorius, 7 Ernie Strydom, 6 Philip de Wet, 5 Victor Kruger, 4 Siyanda Ndlovu, 3 John-Roy Jenkinson, 2 JC Oberholzer, 1 Henry Scharneck.
Replacements: 16 Marius Fourie, 17 Martin Dreyer, 18 Lodewyk Uys, 19 HP Swart/Siya Mdaka, 20 Andries Botha, 21 Malan van der Merwe, 22 Terswin Raubenheimer, 23 Mashudu Mafela.

* Two Young Guns semifinals (Steinhoff Maties Under-20 v FNB UFS Under-20 and FNB UP-Tuks Under-20 v FNB NWU-Pukke Under-20) and two Steinhoff Koshuisrugby Championships semifinals (Steinhoff Patria v Steinhoff Dagbreek and Steinhoff Vishuis v Steinhoff Cobras) will also be taking place on Monday, March 26.

* The last round of Varsity Shield fixtures are also taking place on Monday, with both matches kicking off at 7pm - FNB UKZN v FNB UWC (in Pietermaritzburg) and FNB UFH and FNB CUT in Alice. CUT need to beat UFH and score four tries to wrestle away a home final from FNB Wits who are currently top of the log.

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