Loftus Versfeld played host to the annual Carlton Rugby League Finals on Saturday August 8. In a closely contested match, Police came out on top after a l ast minute extra-time penalty denied Tuks their third consecutive Carlton Cup title.
The match certainly lived up to expectations as the two teams produced the most scintillating and nail-biting game of the tournament.
Despite winning the previous two finals, Tuks were ultimately dubbed the underdogs building up to this cup final. This is due to the fact that some of the club’s key players are being snatched up every season by major franchises such as the Blue Bulls. This meant that only three players who were in the starting line-up for the 2008 fi nal also started in this year’s final.
The match got off to a slow but progressive pace with both teams refusing to let their guard down. However, it was Police who piled on the pressure early, missing a couple of penalties and having a try disallowed in the 18th minute. Tuks also had a few opportunities at the posts but did not look organised in the first 20 minutes.
The deadlock was fi nally broken in the 23rd minute, when Police were awarded a penalty after a Tuks defensive blunder. Police fl yhalf M. Erasmus, managed to convert this time at his third attempt.
The penalty seemed to have inspired Tuks, because two minutes later flanker Louis van Biljon, took advantage of some sloppy Police defence and scored the first try of the match. Fullback and Tuks’s set-piece specialist, Justin van Staden, easily converted and the game was on.
This sparked some impressive rugby by Tuks and they continued to play with more confidence as the game progressed. Just before halftime Van Staden capitalised on the defensive error by Police to score Tuks’s second try. However, he missed the conversion, which was the last kick of the fi rst half and Tuks went into the break with a 12-6 lead.
In the second half, Tuks continued piling on the pressure, taking chances at goal and dominating both territory and possession. In the 51st minute, Van Staden successfully took a drop goal, increasing the lead to nine points.
Four minutes later however, Police scrumhalf, E. van Niekerk, was left unmarked as he sprinted towards the try line and scored their fi rst try of the match. In the 63rd minute, Police were awarded a rather controversial penalty. Erasmus converted and brought the score to a narrow 15-14 in favour of Tuks. A minute later, Van Staden converted another penalty for Tuks, restoring the four point lead.
A sudden change of fortunes came in the 78th minute. Police were playing very aggressive rugby and it payed off when they scored a dramatic try and swung the match back in their favour. Some delaying tactics by Erasmus meant that his conversion only came with 52 seconds to go.
The score was then 21-18, advantage Police. But the fat lady was not ready to sing yet as the men from Tuks threw everything they had at their opponents and with literally seven seconds to go on the clock, Van Staden popped over a drop goal to level the scores. It was Police who got the upper-hand early on in extra-time, scoring a try within the fi rst three minutes.
Tuks responded minutes later by scoring their own try to level the scores once again. With just less than two minutes to go and the score standing at 28-28, Police were awarded yet another penalty.
Erasmus slotted home to give his side the advantage again, and that certainly seemed to be the winner. This time there was to be no miraculous comeback for Tuks, and the match finally ended in a 31-28 victory for Police.