UP entered the ninth instalment of the Varsity Cup rugby competition on 30 points when they played host to Stellenbosch University (Maties) at Loftus Versfeld. UP, the two-time Varsity Cup champions, kicked off the 2017 season on a high note when they defeated their Cape-based rivals 13-9, after falling out of the competition in the semi-finals against Maties last year.
UP were welcomed back home to the Tuks Stadium on 13 February when they hosted the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) Madibaz in a third round fixture. UP-Tuks continued their winning streak over the Madibaz as they claimed a 33-16 victory. This gave UP a 100 percent winning record going into the next fixture against the University of Johannesburg (UJ).
The match against UJ was played on 20 February at the UJ stadium in wet conditions. The UP kickers did not cope well with the elements as they repeatedly missed chances to score points. UJ unexpectedly defeated UP when they won the game 18-17. The captain of UP (Chris Massyn) expressed his disappointment at the narrow defeat by saying, “We were our own worst enemy against UJ. We did not take the opportunities on offer and have only ourselves to blame. The boys are pretty upset about the result but are determined to bounce back against Wits. We really struggled to be on the same page as the referee, but that is our fault. We did not adapt quickly enough and thus couldn’t get into the game. The weather certainly did not help but that is no excuse.’’
UP were looking to bounce back from their UJ defeat when they welcomed the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) to the Tuks Stadium on 27 February. Wits approached the game with an aggressive edge that ensured a 3-all score-line at the first strategic break. However, the Wits defense was finally breached in the 24th minute of the game. Dewald Naudé scored the first try of the match. Wits scored a three-point penalty two minutes later to narrow the gap to two points with the score at 8-6 in favour of UP. The visitors took the lead for the first time when flyhalf and captain, Warren Gilbert, scored his third penalty of the match to make the score 9-8. The response from UP was almost immediate as the skipper, Chris Massyn, scored a converted try. This ended the half at 15-9 in UP-Tuks’s favour. UP extended their lead to 18-9 after the second half resumed. The remainder of the half was played at a slow pace with neither team showing any endeavour to score. UP-Tuks managed to force a try through a strong rolling maul late in the second half. Franco van den Berg emerged with the ball after crashing over. Flyhalf, Tinus de Beer, converted the try to give the hosts a comfortable 25-9 victory.
UP have qualified for the play-off stages of Varsity Cup for the past two seasons. With the recent victory over Wits, UP-Tuks are third on the log with 14 points. With a game in hand, it seems likely that a play-off position is on the cards. Next on the agenda for UP-Tuks is a home fixture against the Central University of Technology (CUT Ixias) on 6 March. UP-Tuks will be aiming for a possible bonus point victory over CUT to enhance their chances of a home semi-final. It is a fixture that UP-Tuks will be relishing, having beaten the Free State-based side at two previous meetings when UP-Tuks recorded 60-plus score-lines on both occasions.
Photo: Stefan Stander