Maties, Tuks set for epic clash
Cape Town - It's North v South in the Varsity Cup final on Easter Monday, as FNB UP-Tuks and the FNB Maties go head-to-head at the Tuks Rugby Stadium for the right to lift the trophy in 2012.
Not even the most confident punter in the country would safely bet their hard-earned cash on the outcome of this match, as hosts and the league-topping Tuks attempt to win their first-ever Varsity Cup title.
Having stumbled at the final hurdle last year - going down 16-26 to UCT at the selfsame venue - the men from Pretoria will be much wiser heading into this clash against the three times former winners.
"We deserve to be where we are this year," said Tuks captain and hooker Zane Botha. "We ended top of the log, we won our semi-final and it's our right to host the final in front of our home fans. We're really looking forward to it."
Botha is expecting a physical onslaught from the visitors - "It's what you always expect against the Maties" - but you get the feeling that the home side will welcome that approach from the Maties.
"Maties are always a good team, there's no such thing as a weak Maties side, excellence is in their culture," said the Tuks No 2, who also went on to compare Monday's clash to a club rugby battle of yesteryear.
"In many ways it's similar (to those old club matches)," added Botha, "we're feeling the excitement and we're anticipating a massive crowd which just adds to the occasion."
Of course, given the magnitude of Monday's game, there have been a few jibes going back and forth this week - all adding to the build-up.
"There has been talk of the Maties playing against the Bulls," said Botha, getting straight to the point, "but it doesn't bother us at all. I mean, in reality, all the players that are playing in the Vodacom Cup are Tuks players first and foremost. They made their mark at Varsity Cup level and deserve to have taken the step up."
Tuks have made just one change to their team - from the side which beat NWU-Pukke 53-24 in the semi-finals two weeks ago - as Jono Ross returns from Vodacom Cup duty to take his place at No 8. With Ross back, former SA Sevens player Okkie Kruger moves to No 6, with Wiaan Liebenberg dropping to the bench.
The Maties have also kept changes to a minimum, with coach Chean Roux making two alterations to the side that beat UJ 23-0 in the semi-finals. Up front, Alistair Vermaak starts ahead of Brummer Badenhorst at loosehead prop, whilst the more experienced and tactically astute Donald Stevens will start at scrumhalf ahead of Boela Abrahams.
"As a coaching team we couldn't possibly do any more... I mean, we know what to expect and I'm pretty sure Tuks will know that we'll know what to expect," Roux told varsitycup.co.za.
"All we can do as a team is get our execution right and ensure that we stop their momentum," added the Maties boss.
"They have two major strings to their bow - their momentum and their kicking game; we need to stop them both, although it won't be easy against a team that's been playing the same game - and doing it very well - for the past two seasons."
When asked about the various pre-match mind games, Roux replied in kind: "We finished second on the log, despite beating Tuks in the league phase of the competition, but they deserve to host the final and to go into the game as favourites.
"It's their second home final in a row," he added, "so they'll certainly be feeling the pressure - especially after losing at home last year."
* Meanwhile, two matches will precede Monday's final - the promotion/relegation clash between CUT and UCT (at 14:30) and the Steinhoff Koshuisrugby Championships final between Steinhoff Dagbreek (Maties) and Steinhoff Vishuis (Shimlas) at 16:30.
Both matches, like the final, will be televised live on SuperSport One and will serve as the official curtain-raisers to the fifth Varsity Cup final which then gets underway at 19:00.
Over 14 000 supporters are expected to cram into the Tuks Rugby Stadium on Monday - with tickets free - whilst, aside from the rugby action, there will be plenty entertainment in Pretoria in the form of top South African group Die Heuwels Fantasties, who will be performing live; in the Fan Park and on the field before kick-off, leading the teams in Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika beforehand too.
The Tuks Fan Park will be based inside the Tuks Rugby Stadium and will link up, via SuperSport, with the Maties Fan Park at the very popular Neelsie Student Centre in Stellenbosch for those Maties fans unable to make the trip up to Pretoria.
UP-Tuks: 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Deon Helberg, 13 Jerome Pretorius, 12 Dabeon Draghoender, 11 Hayden Groepes, 10 Wesley Dunlop, 9 Lohan Jacobs, 8 Jono Ross, 7 Jacques Verwey, 6 Okkie Kruger, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Mike Williams, 3 Grant Kemp, 2 Zane Botha (captain), 1 Sabelo Nhlapo.
Substitutes: 16 Kurt Haupt, 17 Juan Schoeman, 18 Sthembiso Mlongo, 19 Wiaan Liebenberg, 20 Rudi van Rooyen, 21 Willie du Plessis, 22 Courtnall Skosan, 23 Basil Short.
Maties: 15 André Smith, 14 Ryan Nell, 13 Wessel Coetzee, 12 Louis Jordaan, 11 Dean Hammond, 10 André Kemp, 9 Donald Stevens, 8 Grant Hattingh, 7 Helmut Lehmann (captain), 6 Sam Mabombo, 5 Hugo Kloppers, 4 Reniel Hugo, 3 Os Hamman, 2 Rob Herring, 1 Alistair Vermaak.
Substitutes: 16 Alfred Ries, 17 Brummer Badenhorst, 18 JP Swanepoel, 19 Nicholas de Jager, 20 Boela Abrahams, 21 Jarryd Buys, 22 Clearance Khumalo, 23 Hein van der Merwe.
Date: Monday, April 9
Venue: Tuks Rugby Stadium, Pretoria
Kick-off: 19:00 (Live on SuperSport One)
Referee: Rasta Rashivenga
Assistant referees: Tiaan Jonker, Ben Crouse
TMO: Johann Meuwesen