DAN LOMBARD AND MAXINE TWADDLE

FNB UP-Tuks lost to FNB NWU-Pukke 26-24 in their opening Varsity Cup match at the Fanie du Toit Rugby Field in Potchefstroom last Monday.

Although both sides started off well, Pukke went on to dominate the first 40 minutes of the match. Tuks lost their momentum and their defence began to look weak early in the match, enabling Pukke to cross the try line on three occasions with tries from Robey Labuschagne, Ernie Strydom and Martin Dreyer. Gerhard Nortier was on target with all three conversions for Pukke. Although Tuks reacted strongly to the first try scored against them, they were unable to keep pressure on the home side and Pukke went into the break with a 24-0 lead.

Tuks’s poor first-half performance was worsened by a shoulder injury to captain Jono Ross. Ross left the field after five minutes of play.

Tuks emerged from the tunnel a different team in the second half, outscoring their opponents 23-2 in the last 40 minutes. Tuks applied a more solid game plan and seemed to be finding the form which won them the tournament last year. Constant pressure from the visitors allowed them to score four tries in 20 minutes, restricting the home side’s scoring opportunities to a single penalty conversion. Vainon Willis, Riaan Britz, Sidney Tobias and Courtnall Skosan all scored tries for Tuks. Tuks went into the last five minutes of the game trailing by only three points.

The defending champions failed to deal with the pressure of playing in front of a hostile crowd. Pukke, who enjoyed overwhelming support, coped well in the tense final minutes of the game to prevent Tuks from scoring.

Missed conversions cost Tuks heavily. Flyhalf Willie du Plessis missed both of his conversions and his replacement Tian Schoeman converted only one of his two attempts.

“Pukke are an incredibly difficult team to play against at home and they clearly showed up for this match. We were under pressure with the loss of Jono early in the first half but we will definitely bounce back from this loss,” Tuks head coach Nollis Marais said.

Marais was confident that his team was able to take positives from the match, saying that “what is important for the team is that we have now lost the ‘team to beat’ tag, which allows the players to focus solely on the game.”

Tuks will play FNB UCT in their first home game on Monday at 17:00. Tuks will be looking to bounce back from their loss in Potchefstroom while UCT travel to Pretoria after a disappointing draw against NMMU.

Wian Liebenberg will take over the captaincy from the injured Ross and will have his hands full as he leads an inexperienced team against UCT.

“UCT is traditionally a strong rugby university and we are not underestimating them for a moment. The team has had a lot of setbacks with both Jono Ross and Sydney Tobias injured during the Pukke game. Wian has Varsity Cup experience and we are confident that he will lead the team from the front,” Marais told Perdeby.

Photo: Brad Donald

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