The class of 2012 arguably dished up some of the most memorable moments in the tournaments history, but in the end it will come down to Maties vs. UJ in Stellenbosch and Tuks vs. Pukke in Pretoria.
The teams for the semi’s suggest a power shift has taken place with Maties the sole survivor from the Southern Teams that dominated the tournament so far, but play-off’s is a funny beast.
In the first match we see Maties hosting UJ at Stellenbosch. Last week both teams could only salvage a draw out of their game and will try to go one better tonight to book a spot in the final. Despite finishing the league stage unbeaten Maties ended up second behind Tuks on the log and will have to travel to Pretoria if they and Tuks win their respective games tonight.
Looking ahead to his team’s fourth home semi-finals in five years, Maties Coach Chean Roux was in a relaxed frame of mind – even in light of the Men in Maroon’s 10-10 draw against the self-same UJ side earlier this week.
“There’s no point suddenly trying to reinvent the wheel ahead of a big semi-final,” said Roux.
“But just like we’d be stupid to change anything drastically, I don’t see UJ changing too much either. They’ve got a good line-out, a strong set-piece in general, and the best defence in the tournament. They could easily have ended the league phase of the Varsity Cup unbeaten.”
UJ coach Hugo van As has a similar view to Roux in terms of his pre-game preparation. The Men in Orange will not deviate much from the approach that brought them four wins and one draw – from seven matches – during the league stage of this tournament.
“What’s happened up till now is in the past,” said Van As, whose side topped the log last year before going down in the semi-finals – at home – to UP-Tuks.
“Last week’s game was very close and, in the end, nothing could separate the teams. I’m expecting the same on Monday and, as it’s a semi-final, it will be about taking your chances. To me, the team that does so will make it to the final.
“One thing I’ve learnt from last year is that it’s all about taken that one chance that could win you the game – no matter what,” added Van As, when quizzed about UJ’s 2011 play-off defeat.
“A play-off match can be over in the blink of an eye,” he said, “there are no second chances, so you need to be prepared to take that match-winning opportunity if it presents itself.”
In the second mouth-watering match we have last year’s finalist Tuks hosting Pukke in Pretoria. Tuks, one of my picks from last year will certainly come into the match as the favourites to win the title but will have to get past a inform Pukke team first and then take on the likes of Maties or UJ in the final. The upside for Tuks is that if the pass tonight’s test against Pukke they will again be the host of the final next week in Pretoria.
Tuks who ended a well-deserved first in the league stage of the tournament will want to carry that form onto tonight’s game. Blue Bulls stars Franco Mostert, Wesley Dunlop and Clayton Blommetjies have all be named in the team for tonight’s game.
Looking ahead to Monday’s Last Four encounter at the Tuks Rugby Stadium, home team coach Nollis Marais said: “Yes, we beat NWU-Pukke convincingly in the group phase of the tournament, but that is water under the bridge.
“They will be firing on all cylinders on Monday and we will also have to be right up there to pass our biggest test of the season.
“I do not doubt for a moment that we can beat them again, but to accomplish this we will have to improve dramatically on our performances against Shimlas, NMMU and Ikeys. They were good enough to take maximum points in every match, but not good enough to win championships.
“And we are now at a stage of the competition where there are no second chances. It’s everything or nothing,” added Marais.
“Stage One was very successful as we topped the log with 30 points, a record for UP-Tuks. Our group phase-winning percentage of 86 (six wins in seven matches) is also a record,” said Marais on the official Tuks website.
“Stage Two starts on Monday in the play-off round,” added the Tuks boss. “No points will be carried over from the league phase with the result that all four semi-finalists start with a zero balance to their names.
The NWU-Pukke ended fourth on the log after seven rounds of action, but finished the league part of the 2012 Varsity Cup as one of the form teams – having not tasted defeat since mid-February, against the self-same UP-Tuks side.
“We’d naturally love to go all the way,” admitted Esterhuizen when asked about his team’s chances on Monday.
“It’s a big opportunity for the players and they’re all very excited about Monday. I think UP-Tuks are a very good team, but, then again, I think all four teams are in with a shout of lifting the trophy at this stage.
“We’ve been working pretty hard this season, since November in fact, but there’s not much more one can do at this stage of the season – it’s all about what happens on Monday night.”
Schedule of games:
FNB Maties v FNB UJ
Danie Craven Stadium (Stellenbosch)
Kick-off: 5.30pm (Live on SuperSport One)
FNB UP-Tuks v FNB NWU-Pukke
Tuks Rugby Stadium (Pretoria)
Kick-off: 7.30pm (Live on SuperSport One)
What a tough one tonight;
Maties vs. UJ – One of the toughest ones to predict but I will pull a Naas Botha on myself and go with the Home team Maties by 5 points, but UJ can upset the apple cart.
Tuks vs. Pukke – Tuks should pull this easy through but anything can happen, Tuks with 7 points.
** Additional information supplied by www.varsitycup.co.za