Varsity Cup champions FNB Tuks added yet more silverware to their trophy cabinet when they beat Jonsson College Rovers 23-21 at Mr Price Kings Park in Durban on Friday night to claim the inaugural Champions Challenge.
The Pretoria students, who earlier this year won the Varsity Cup for the first time with victory over Maties, accepted an invitation to return to KZN for the first time in 21 years to face the country's top-ranked non-university club in a friendly match endorsed by SARU as well as the KZN and Blue Bulls Rugby Unions.
Two first-half tries from scrumhalf Clayton Stewart gave the visitors a 17-6 lead at halftime, but College Rovers, the 2010 national club champions, fought back after the break with tries from flanker Kosie Haarhoff and centre Nick Jackson.
Wing Jors Dannhauser kicked a penalty with six minutes remaining to give the Durban side a 21-20 lead, but Tuks' flyhalf Willie du Plessis calmly slotted a 76th-minute penalty that eventually separated the sides.
Dannhauser had a chance to win the match for Rovers in the final minute but his penalty kick from 40 metres flew wide.
“It was a fantastic occasion and you could just see from their celebrations what coming to Durban meant to the players,” said former Springbok captain and Tuks president Wynand Claassen after the match. “People want to see these types of games between the top varsity and open clubs and hopefully it's the start of things to come.”
KZNRU President Graham MacKenzie, who was instrumental in organising the match, echoed Claassen's thoughts. “We would like to thank Wynand and Tuks for a great game played in a fantastic spirit,” he said. “It was a privilege for us to host the Varsity Cup champions because it's not something that happens very often.
“Watching both sides forming a giant circle on the field afterwards showed that, even in a game between the country's top two clubs, the unique spirit and camaraderie of club rugby shone through. There's no doubt we'd like to see this become an annual affair.”
FNB Tuks 23 – Tries: Clayton Stewart (2), Hayden Groepes. Conversion: Willie du Plessis. Penalties: Du Plessis (2).
Jonsson College Rovers 21 – Tries: Kosie Haarhoff, Nick Jackson. Conversion: Jors Dannhauser. Penalties: Dannhauser (3).