Third time lucky for Ikeys?
Pretoria - The FNB Ikey Tigers will be hoping for a case of third time lucky when they travel to Pretoria to take on the FNB Tukkies in the 2011 Varsity Cup Final at the Tuks Rugby Stadium on Monday evening.
Having suffered narrow losses to the previously all-conquering FNB Maties in the 2008 and 2010 finals (and losing to FNB Pukke in the 2009 semifinals), the Ikeys have developed the unwanted tag of 'Varsity Cup bridesmaids' as they watched their provincial neighbours lift the title three times in a row.
Of course, with the Maties having bombed out before the semifinals this season - at the hands of FNB UJ, at home in Stellenbosch - UCT now have a chance to finally put that runners-up tag to bed, once and for all.
All that stands in their way now, however, is the not-so-small matter of beating the University of Pretoria in the 2011 final of the FNB Varsity Cup presented by Steinhoff International.
But not helping their cause is the small matter of having to travel to Pretoria - despite earning the right to host the home final - although Ikeys head coach Kevin Foote, in his first year in charge of the Ikeys, does not see that as a negative.
"We knew from the word go that we would not be able to host the final - no matter what," Foote told varsitycup.co.za. "We appreciate all the support we get, and all the people that have been behind us, but we have no fear traveling away to go and win the Varsity Cup."
Backing up Foote's statement of "no fear" is the fact that UCT have lost just one match up country during four seasons of Varsity Cup rugby - to Pukke in 2009 - whilst they also won their previous clash against Tuks, at the selfsame Tuks Rugby Stadium, some three weeks ago.
That win over Tuks, by 19-17, allowed UCT to snare a fourth successive home semifinal and they promptly went on to dispatch the Shimlas by 57-20 in their semifinal meeting in Cape Town a week later.
Both UCT and Tuks have had a week off since their respective semifinal victories - Tuks having beaten UJ 25-11 in Johannesburg - allowing the teams to rest a few niggles, which has helped the Men from Cape Town significantly.
Aside from resting fragile bodies, however, the Ikeys have also been boosted by the availability of Western Province Vodacom Cup players Nic Groom, Tim Whitehead and Marcel Brache - all of whom started against Tuks last time - and SA Under-20 lock Eben Etzebeth steps up from the bench after being rushed back for the semifinal from the SA U20 tour of Argentina.
"I'm stoked with the team that we will be putting out on the park come Monday night," said Foote.
"I'm bitterly disappointed for a guy like Adrian Kritzinger who is injured and will be missing the final, but, then again, we're very lucky to be able to call upon someone like Tim Whitehead in his absence.
"I'd also have loved to have selected [loose forward] Nizaam Carr, but with guys like Adrian and Dayne [Jans] getting injured my student 'quota' is a bit out [there must be 15 full-time students in all 23-man Varsity Cup squads], so I wasn't able to."
Tuks have kept a low-profile this week, but coach Nollis Marais named a powerful starting lineup on Friday - including Jono Ross on the flank, Arno Botha at No.8 and a fit-again Stephan Pretorius at tighthead prop; three changes in all from their semifinal starting XV.
"Our preparations have gone to plan as the players came back fresh and vibrant after the week's break," said Marais to varsitycup.co.za. "We have no new injuries and will field our strongest available side."
* Monday's finals day in Pretoria gets underway at 3pm when FNB TUT (the Varsity Cup Wooden Spoonists) and FNB CUT (the Varsity Shield winners) go head-to-head in the first-ever promotion/relegation match.
The next match is at 4.45pm - the Steinhoff Koshuisrugby Championships Final between Steinhoff Simonsberg (Maties) and Steinhoff Patria (Pukke) - with a Red Bull Airshow taking place during halftime in that match.
The official festivities ahead of the 2011 Varsity Cup Final between Tuks and UCT will begin soon after the Koshuis Final, with top Afrikaans singer Bobby van Jaarsveld set to wow the crowd and help the build-up to the first-ever final in Pretoria.
Entrance is free on Monday, with the various beer gardens opening their doors at 5pm - with supporters encouraged to get to the LC de Villiers Sports Grounds as early as possible to join in all the festivities.
All matches will also be televised live on SuperSport One.
15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Deon Helberg, 13 Jean du Plessis, 12 Dabeon Draghoender, 11 Hayden Groepes, 10 Wesley Dunlop (captain), 9 Danie Faasen, 8 Arno Botha, 7 Jono Ross, 6 Warwick Tecklenburg, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Nqubeko Zulu, 3 Stephan Pretorius, 2 Robbie Coetzee, 1 Vincent Koch
Replacements: 16 Chris Crous, 17 Jean Rossouw, 18 Luvuyiso Lusaseni, 19 Jacques Verwey, 20 Clayton Stewart, 21 JC Roos, 22 Gerhardus Kotzee, 23 Grant Kemp
15 Therlow Pietersen, 14 Pete Haw, 13 Marcel Brache, 12 Tim Whitehead, 11 Ricky Rijs, 10 Demetri Catrakilis, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Greg Mallett, 7 Nick Fenton-Wells (captain), 6 Don Armand, 5 Levi Odendaal, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Shane Meier, 2 Matt Page, 1 Wesley Chetty
Replacements: 16 Neil Rautenbach, 17 Francois van Wyk, 18 Michael Morris, 19 Zandy Macdonald, 20 Ricky Schroeder, 21 Mark Winter, 22 Sabelo Siyakatshana, 23 Pete Olivier
Varsity Cup finals day fixtures:
FNB TUT Vikings v FNB CUT
Steinhoff Koshuisrugby Championships Final:
Steinhoff Simonsberg v Steinhoff Patria
Varsity Cup Final:
FNB Tuks v FNB UCT