Bernard van der Linde. (Photo by Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images)
Tuks conjured up the most remarkable of comebacks as they claimed a fifth Varsity Cup title by defeating a shell-shocked Maties 29-23 in Stellenbosch on Monday night, ensuring that yet another major trophy has a resting place in Pretoria.
In front of a boisterous crowd at the Danie Craven Stadium, Nico Luus’ charges seemed destined to pay for a lacklustre and ill-disciplined first half as they struggled to regain possession at the death as the hosts kept things relatively tight with the final minutes drifting away.
But then, in the 78th minute, indomitable fullback Stefan Coetzee broke through almost half a dozen tackles with his lanky legs before off-loading to his brilliant scrumhalf Bernard van der Linde for the match-clinching score.
To add to the drama, Coetzee’s pass was referred upstairs to check if it went forward and Maties could probably feel hard done by as Van der Linde’s hands did seem to catch the ball at a compromising angle.
TMO Egon Seconds ruled there wasn’t enough evidence to overturn the on-field call.
On balance, Tuks deserved their victory for showing greater potency on attack.
Winning the try-count four to one certainly tells its own story, but it also vividly illustrated that while a poor start is never desirable in a final, it shouldn’t automatically derail a performance.
Tuks were truly nowhere in the first 40, succumbing to Maties’ superior accuracy and their own poor discipline.
They were on the back foot immediately when inside centre Taigh Schoor’s deft cross-chip found winger Mike Mavovana, setting the tone for a half where pivot Nevaldo Fleurs feasted on a stream of penalties.
In fact, Tuks were only kept in contention by Van der Linde’s opportunistic and well-timed interception.
That normal service resumed for the first 10 minutes of the second half before Fleurs’ sixth penalty actually spurred the visitors into action instead of demotivating them.
They hit back immediately with winger Kabelo Mokoena’s first try and saw the flyer go over again 17 minutes later after several previous incursions were doomed by errors, notably when Van der Linde knocked-on in the build-up to a try by blindsider Stephan Smit.
That was enough to shake up the home side, who then themselves raised the tempo and almost sealed the deal before Smit delivered a magnificent try-saving tackle on Mavovana.
They were then content to play proceedings out, but didn’t bank on Coetzee breaking their hearts.
Maties – 23 (20)
Try: Mike Mavovana
Penalties: Nevaldo Fleurs (6)
Tuks – 29 (10)
Try: Kabelo Mokoena (2), Bernard van der Linde (2, 1xPO)
Conversion: Walter Visser
Penalty: Stefan Coetzee