The FNB NMMU Madibaz avenged their semifinal defeat to Maties last year by beating the three-time Varsity Cup champions 45-29 in Port Elizabeth.
It was the perfect start to the tournament for the Eastern Cape side, as they ran in six tries to claim a comprehensive bonus point victory and leave the visitors stunned.
Openside flank Chris Cloete got over for an incredible five tries – with four coming from driving mauls – and although they conceded four tries themselves it was a dominant performance that will serve as a ominous warning for the rest of the teams in the competition.
The home side made a strong start, surging into the Maties 22 with purpose, and captain Roy Godfrey was rewarded for his decision to kick for the corner when flank Christopher Cloete crashed over for the opening try from a driving maul.
That gave NMMU an early 5-0 lead as the visitors battled to get their hands on the ball, and it was not long before Cloete had made it a double from another driving maul.
The touchline conversion from flyhalf Gavin Hauptfleisch split the uprights to give the Madibaz a healthy 13-0 lead, leaving the Maties firmly on the back foot from the outset.
The team from Stellenbosch managed to string some attacking phases together as they moved into the opposition 22, but NMMU’s defence held up well to keep them scoreless at the first strategy break.
Maties continued their onslaught in Madibaz territory after the break, which resulted in one of the two referees having a chat with Godfrey about his team’s discipline, but there was still no way through for Maties who could not find the finishing touch.
Instead it was NMMU that scored next, with big No.8 Tim Agaba showing some impressive footwork to step through the Maties defence and cruise over for a great try that inflated his side’s lead to 21-0.
They took that lead into the half-time break, leaving Maties with it all to do in the second half after being thoroughly outplayed in the opening 40 minutes.
Maties started the second half with purpose as they looked for a way back into the match, but they lacked the penetration to make the home side pay and the Madibaz showed them how it is done when Cloete crashed over for his hat-trick try from another driving maul.
The touchline conversion from Hauptfleisch made it 29-0, leaving Maties staring down the barrel of a heavy defeat in the opening round.
The visitors finally responded with a try of their own through centre Mark Hodgskiss who dotted down under the poles after a period of sustained pressure to get his team on the board.
However, NMMU struck back immediately through the prolific Cloete who crashed over for his fourth try to give them a formidable 37-8 advantage in the second strategy break.
Maties suffered a further setback shortly afterwards when replacement flank Lungelo Chonco was shown a yellow card for collapsing a maul, and Cloete was on hand to crash over for his fifth try which extended the lead to 45-8.
The visitors responded with three late tries from wing Clearance Khumalo, replacement lock Renier Ehlers and Hodgkiss who dived over in the last minute to salvage a bonus point for his side.
For FNB NMMU Madibaz:
Tries: Cloete 5, Agaba
Cons: Hauptfleisch 5
For FNB Maties:
Tries: Hodgskiss 2, Khumalo, Ehlers
Cons: Smith, Du Preez 2