Ikeys clinch Varsity Cup
Greg Mallett (Gallo Images)
Pretoria - The University of Cape Town won their first FNB Varsity Cup, presented by Steinhoff International, when they beat Tuks 26-16 at the Tuks Rugby stadium in Pretoria on Monday evening.
FNB UCT came from behind, trailing 10-16 against FNB Tuks at halftime, to keep the home team scoreless after the break and win at their third attempt in a Final.
It was a final decided through the doggedness of the Ikeys, who held out in the face of 10 minutes of relentless pressure from the Tuks team, who took the ball through more than 20 phases at one stage - without being able to breach the visitors' defence.
Early Tuks mistakes cost them and Ikeys were also made to pay for a litany of errors. Tuks were also more effective at the breakdown in the first half, as the hand of Heyneke Meyer could clearly be seen - both in terms of tactics and passion. Ikeys were also not coping well with the high bombs raining on them, as the Tuks halfback pairing of flyhalf Wesley Dunlop, also the captain, and No.9 Danie Faasen dictated terms with their accurate tactical kicking.
However, the Ikeys eventually realised that if they retained the ball for long enough periods the opposition inevitably concede penalties under pressure and with their forwards in full cry after the break, they looked a class outfit. It allowed their dangerous running backs more opportunities to receive the ball going forward at pace and the gaps started to appear.
In the end it was a deserved win by an Ikeys team that showed they could not only play attractive rugby, but also grind out a win in finals.
Tuks were made to pay early for their sloppy start - Greg Mallett going over for the first try after just 70 seconds. It all started when Tuks failed to collect the first kick-off and then messed up a lineout which stemmed from the first mistake.
Tuks had their chances in the first 10 minutes, but on a number of occasions either the Ikeys defence stopped them in their tracks, or their handling let them down.
However, once the nerves had settled, they found their way into UCT territory, won a penalty and flyhalf Wesley Dunlop opened his team's account in the 12th minute. And he made it 6-7 five minutes later when Ikeys were penalised at a ruck right in front of their posts.
And with a string of penalties against the visitors, it came as no surprise when Tuks turned their possession and territory into points - centre Jean du Plessis going over after some quick phase play, Dunlop adding the extras and Tuks taking a 13-7 lead into the first strategy break. Dunlop made it a nine-point lead (16-7) as the penalty count for breakdown infringements continued to mount against UCT.
Demetri Catrakilis pulled three points back right on the stroke of half-time, as Ikeys finally got their hands on the ball and managed to put enough phases together to force the home team into conceding a penalty - making it 16-10 at the break.
Catrakilis gave Ikeys the opening points after the break, a penalty for a late tackle, but not before Nic Groom had come close enough to attract the attention of the TMO - who ruled that it was unclear whether he had put the ball down on or over the line. And he levelled the scores up at 16-all towards the end of the third quarter, as Tuks found the breakdown penalty count mounting against them.
The visitors eventually regained the lead as they piled on the pressure, took the ball through the phases and with their forwards making plenty of metres, it was hooker Matt Page that got the second try. Catrakilis added the conversion for a 23-16 lead going into the second strategy break.
And with just on 10 minutes remaining Catrakilis gave his team some breathing space with his fourth penalty of the evening - 26-16.
Tuks now launched a series of powerful forward raids on the Ikeys line - taking lineouts instead of kicks at goal, quick taps from penalties and twice going over the line, only for the ball to be held up.
All the while time kept on ticking away.
At one stage they went more than 20 phases, as the Ikeys tackled them back time-and-again.