The 2016 FNB Varsity Cup rugby tournament officially kicked off on Monday 8 February when UP-Tuks hosted 2015 finalists North-West University (NWU Pukke). Pukke have been a consistent nuisance to UP-Tuks in recent years, with UP-Tuks last beating them in the 2012 edition of the Varsity Cup.
Pukke were immediately on the offensive from the kick-off and applied early pressure to force UP-Tuks into their own half. The onslaught was relentless as UP-Tuks found themselves pinned behind their own 22-metre line. UP got some much needed relief when outside centre Stedman Gans pulled off a try-saving tackle close to the whitewash. It was in the seventh minute, however, that Pukke found the breakthrough when lock Walt Steenkamp pounced on a loose ball after a lineout from the Pretoria side to score the opening try. 2015 “Player that rocks” Rhyno Smith converted the two-pointer to open his kicking account and hand Pukke a 7-0 lead. UP-Tuks probed for an opening try only to be left frustrated by a string of unforced errors. As they struggled to gain composure, Pukke struck again when some enterprising interplay allowed fly-half Barend Janse van Rensburg to slide over for a nine-point try. Rhyno Smith converted once more to unsettle UP with an 18-0 lead in the early stages.
UP finally registered some points with a three-point penalty by fly-half Joshua Stander, but Tuks conceded a try again shortly afterwards with Van Rensburg recording a brace that extended the score to 25-3, with the conversion. The aggregate seemed to spark Tuks back to life with a series of attacking moves from the Pretoria outfit. Kicking by Joshua Stander allowed UP to advance deep into the Pukke half but they were unable to capitalise in the final third. Chances came thick and fast for UP-Tuks with halftime looming, but Pukke seemed too composed to be bothered.
Pukke picked up where they left off in the second half with Smith continuing his fine kicking display, recording a 45 m penalty to bring the score up to 28-3. UP managed to secure a try when loose-head prop Andrew Beerwinkel forced his way over the line. Stander converted the try to make it 28-10. UP-Tuks started to show signs of life with Stander and inside centre Max Calitz combing to cause havoc in the Pukke half. A turnover ball soon allowed Smith to extend Pukke into safety with a huge 50 m penalty kick. Regardless of the imposing scoreline, UP-Tuks did not relent and left winger Duhan van de Merwe took the initiative as he scorched his way to the try line. A tight kicking angle prevented Stander from adding the extra points and the score remained at 31-15.
The momentum soon shifted again as Pukke pinned UP-Tuks in their own half. Pukke right winger Lucian Oupido opened up the defence with some impressive speed as he set up teammate Sylvian Mahuza for a try in the corner. Smith converted the try to hand Pukke an unassailable lead with seven minutes on the clock. The siren sounded as UP-Tuks looked to salvage some pride in injury time. The Pretoria side groped for a late try, but the end was signalled when Pukke got the turnover and left UP fans to walk home defeated in the rain. Life doesn’t get any easier for UP-Tuks with the University of the Free State Shimlas next on the agenda.
Photo: Stefan Stander