THORISO PHASHA AND DYLAN JACK
UP-Tuks stepped onto the LC de Villiers rugby field on Monday, 15 February, to face University of the Free State (UFS Shimlas) with the hope of making amends after last week’s loss to Pukke. UFS Shimlas drew first blood as they took the lead as early as the first minute, with a three-point penalty by outside centre Stephan Janse van Rensburg. UP-Tuks responded to the challenge, with outside centre Stedman Gans dismantling the UFS defence with some tricky footwork to set up a try for tight head prop Neethling Fouche. The conversion was unsuccessful and the score remained at 5-3 in favour of UP-Tuks, who continued to pile on the pressure near the Shimlas try line. UFS fullback Marco Mason then broke the momentum as he slapped down a pass, preventing the hosts from scoring what appeared to be a certain try. A seven-point penalty try was awarded to UP after the infringement, and fly-half Joshua Stander duly converted the extra two points to stretch the lead to 14-3.
Duhan van der Merwe soon created a moment of brilliance for UP-Tuks. The lanky left winger showed the crowd his abilities in strength and footwork to evade three opposition defenders en route to a 70 m solo try. The nine-point try, along with the two point conversion from Stander, stretched UP into a comfortable 25-3 lead after 25 minutes. UFS kept their winning hopes alive with a try courtesy of Teunis Niewoudt, who crashed over the try line from a five metre lineout. Janse van Rensburg converted to settle a score of 25-10 as UFS trailed by 15 points. More pressure ensued from UFS, and this paid dividends as they scored their second try of the night. UP-Tuks fullback Riaan Britz pulled off a nine-point try after a smart chip and chase. Stander converted the points to give UP a 16-point cushion heading into the tunnel, the score being 36-15 to the hosts.
Captain Ruan Steenkamp went over for a five pointer just three minutes into the second-half. The score looked rather menacing after the successful conversion by Stander made it 43-15. UFS were seen to change the atmosphere in the stadium when they launched a turnaround with two unanswered tries and two conversions to narrow down the gap. UP-Tuks opted for a kick at goal after UFS conceded a penalty, and Stander added points to make it 46-29. The game was far from over though, as UFS scored a converted nine-point try to bring them within range with the score at 46-40 ten minutes from full-time. UP found themselves on the back-foot when UFS parked themselves deep in their territory. UP struggled to clear their lines due to complacency, and UFS pounced when substitute hooker Marco Klopper scavenged a try from close range. Mason converted the two points to hand UFS the lead at a crucial point in the game. It was a tense climax as UP-Tuks went down 46-47 in a heart-breaking defeat.
Perdeby had a word with captain Ruan Steenkamp afterward to hear his thoughts on the match. “This week we started well but didn’t end well. We have to play and keep at it for the full 80 minutes. We’ll just go back to the drawing board and keep it simple. I think if we had kept it simple [and] hadn’t made so many mistakes, it could have ended more in our [favour] tonight,” said Steenkamp.