UP-Tuks 1 exited the Varsity Cup Rugby tournament after suffering defeat in a home semi-final against North-West University (Pukke) on 30 March. In a heated semi-final Tuks became unstuck by a lacklustre goal-kicking display, despite outscoring the visitors five tries to four.
Both teams made their intentions very clear as they looked to draw first blood in the opening exchanges. Tuks pressed on for the opening try and found themselves camping near the Pukke try line after a lengthy string of phases. Pukke finally buckled under the pressure as captain Jeandre Rudolph was sin-binned for recurring infringements in the ruck. Tuks quickly capitalised on the advantage when captain Wiaan Liebenberg dotted down for a try after a strong rolling maul. Joshua Stander misfired the conversion and the score remained 5-0. Pukke responded almost instantly when blindside flank Marno Redelinghuys broke the line cleanly after gathering a swift pop-pass to score Pukke’s first try. Pukke fullback Ryno Smith then kicked Pukke into the lead. Smith extended Pukke’s lead to 10-5 with a penalty just before the first strategic break.
Tuks inside centre John Jackson brought them back to level on points after exploiting a small gap in the Pukke defence. The score line remained at 10-all after Stander dragged his conversion attempt wide. It was the boot of Smith that separated the two teams again with Pukke taking a 12-10 lead after another successful penalty. Tuks left wing Jermaine Kleinsmith then seemed slightly casual when he failed to gather an awkwardly bouncing ball resulting in a knock-on. Pukke exploited the unforced error, with Rudolph making amends for his earlier mishap by scoring from a solid scrum. The conversion wide, leaving the score at 17-10. Pukke would then extend their lead to 19-10 just before half-time with a penalty.
Tuks came back from the tunnel with renewed energy as they dominated possession. Pukke defended well, forcing Tuks into territorial regression. Tuks were then under immense pressure deep within their own half when Dan Kriel pounced onto a loose ball. The centre showed great pace and stamina, running the whole 90 metres untouched to the try line. Tuks trailed by a solitary point after Stander’s conversion made it 19-18. Defensive tactics by Tuks kept Pukke at bay for a long period of sustained pressure. However, the Tuks wall was finally breached when a long pass picked out winger Dillon Smit on the far left. Pukke lead 24-18 heading into the second strategic break.
Shortly after play resumed Tuks flyer Kleinsmith tore down the left flank, coming down close to the try line. Tuks kept the momentum going as they quickly recycled the ball, and eighth man Clyde Davids finished off the try from close range. Stander let Pukke off the hook when he missed the conversion. Davids went from try scorer to creator, sucking in Pukke defenders before unleashing fullback Riaan Britz into space. The Tuks fullback put the pedal to the metal as he outran the cover defence to slide over in the corner. Tuks utility back Dewald Human took over the kicking duties but failed the attempt at goal.
The match was in for a tense climax as Tuks led 28-24 in the closing stages. Fly-half Johnny Welthagen then broke Tuks’ hearts when he snatched a try with two minutes on the clock, eluding Tuks defenders with some evasive diagonal running. With full time looming Tuks seemed to be in quite a panic as they lost their own scrum, relinquishing possession. Pukke slowed down the tempo of the game as they held on to the ball, winding down the clock to record a hard fought victory. Pukke were undone in the Varsity Cup Final when UFS-Shimlas beat them 66-33 in Bloemfontein. By beating Pukke, Shimlas won their first Varsity Cup title since the inception of the tournament in 2008.