UCT pip Tuks to sneak semi
Last year's losing finalists, UCT, kept up their proud Varsity Cup record by sneaking into their fourth successive semifinal courtesy of a dramatic 19-17 win over Tuks at the LC de Villiers Stadium in Pretoria on Monday.
The visitors were outscored by three tries to one, but a Marcel Brache try – off a potentially forward pass from Tim Whitehead that was not spotted by referee Rasta Rashivenga - saw them nudge into the lead in the 66th minute and they held out for their fifth, and no doubt most crucial, win of the season.
It meant another semifinal finish for UCT, but, cruelly, it meant the end of the road for Tuks, who just seven days ago had set the tongues wagging with a fine home win over the defending champion FNB Maties.
The victory also saw the Cape side move into first place on the log - albeit temporarily - with their potential semifinal opponents, UJ, Maties or Shimlas, all set to play their final league matches at 7pm. Those matches will determine UCT's semifinal opponents and venue.
The first half ended with Tuks 7-6 up, having scored the only try of the match up till then by Andries Coetzee, but the home side were forced into making 57 tackles - compared to UCT's 16 tackles - in those first forty minutes.
Tuks also conceded nine penalties in the first half, compared to UCT's three, but the home side made the perfect start to the second forty minutes when winger Hayden Groepes crashed over in the left-hand corner to extend his side's lead.
Flyhalf and captain Wesley Dunlop missed the conversion, but with Tuks leading by 12-6 it seemed as if they would keep their noses in front throughout; despite the Ikeys' brave effort up till then.
But UCT wasted no time in chipping away at that scoreline when flyhalf Demetri Catrakilis - who probably did not enjoy his best match of the 2011 Varsity Cup - popped over his third penalty to make it 9-12 after 45 minutes.
From then on, however, the second half began to belong to Tuks who piled on the pressure on UCT.
To their credit, the Ikeys resisted but the dam-wall eventually burst in the 60th minute when former Maties centre Dabeon Draghoender crashed over for his first try this season. Dunlop missed the conversion but at 17-9 up Tuks suddenly had one foot in the semifinals.
UCT, however, struck back almost immediately when Catrakilis chipped over his fourth penalty in the 63rd minute, with Tuks continuing to concede penalties at the breakdown, before Whitehead made the game-changing break three minutes later.
Whitehead ran a superb angle off his flyhalf before off-loading a speculative pass to a flying Marcel Brache who needed no second invitation to the tryline. Brache, who made his name in last year's Varsity Cup, touched down near the posts for his team's first try and levelled the scores at 17-17.
Catrakilis stepped up and slotted the fairly easy conversion and, suddenly, UCT found themselves ahead for the first time since the fourth minute of the game when the selfsame Catrakilis had slotted an early penalty.
With just over 13 minutes remaining the game was by no means UCT's and they were forced to hold on in the face of more Tuks pressure; the home crowd also cranking up the volume as they got behind their team.
A 74th minute penalty gave Tuks the chance to steal the lead one last time, but captain Dunlop missed his penalty attempt from far out before UCT claimed a crucial penalty in their own after a knock-on had given Tuks an attacking scrum.
UCT surged up-field and won another penalty in the 78th minute which they opted to kick to touch - despite the kick being in Catrakilis's range.
The UCT line-out, as it did for most of the night, coughed up the ball giving Tuks one final chance to counter-attack. They went wide quickly, with outside centre Jean du Plessis doing well to find space, but winger Groepes knocked on and it handed the visitors one final scrum.
Scrappy No.9 Nic Groom, a late inclusion in the UCT line-up, fed the ball and booted it into touch.
That brought about the final whistle and secured the Ikeys' place in the Last Four yet again - that after they had lost at home to the Maties and UJ during the past two weeks which put their semifinal hopes at risk.
For FNB Tuks:
Tries: A Coetzee, Groepes, Draghoender
For FNB UCT:
Pens: Catrakilis 4
Tuks: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Deon Helberg, 13 Jean du Plessis, 12 Dabeon Draghoender, 11 Hayden Groepes, 10 Wesley Dunlop (captain), 9 Danie Faasen, 8 Jono Ross, 7 Jacques Verwey, 6 Warwick Tecklenburg, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Nqubeko Zulu, 3 Stephan Pretorius, 2 Robbie Coetzee, 1 Morné Mellet.
Replacements: 16 Chris Crous, 17 Vincent Koch, 18 Luvuyiso Lusaseni, 19 Willie Nel, 20 Clayton Stewart, 21 JC Roos, 22 GD Kotzee, 23 Grant Kemp.
UCT: 15 Therlow Pietersen, 14 Mark Winter 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 Hilton Lobberts, 3 Shane Meier, 2 Matthew Page, 1 Wesley Chetty.
Replacements: 16 Dayne Jans, 17 Francois van Wyk, 18 Michael Morris, 19 Zandy Macdonald, 20 Nicholas Farrar, 21 Pete Haw, 22 Sabelo Siyakatshana, 23 Pete Olivier.
Referee: Rasta Rashivenga
TMO: Gerrie Coetzee