FNB Maties remain unbeaten in this year’s FNB Varsity Cup after a 24-13 victory over their counterparts from the University of Johannesburg.
It wasn’t without some scary moments for the defending champions though, as an error strewn performance mixed with some dogged UJ defence and clinical finishing almost resulted in what would have been a famous victory for the Orange Army.
Maties had made numerous changes to their original starting line up but all the way up to kick off they were forced into more.
Jordan Chait stepped up from the bench to start at fly-half, with Reinhardt Fortuin moving into the centre and Chris Smit dropping to the bench.
The Maroon Machine got off to an absolute flyer and the changes didn’t look like they had affected their rhythm in any way. The home team retrieved their own kick off and in the blink of an eyelid, Anton du Toit was diving over in the corner for an opening try.
Within seconds, it was Maties making the mistake and not dealing with a kick off return themselves. UJ turned them over in the middle of the field and the resulting penalty was slotted by their number 10, Mashudu Raphunga.
5-3 after three minutes.
Maties dominated the possession stats for the next 10 minutes but uncharacteristic mistakes were starting to creep into their play. Knock on after knock on and ill discipline kept allowing UJ to clear their lines but in the fourteenth minute a moment of brilliance from Chait changed all of that.
The fly-half spotted a gap on the side of the breakdown, jagged back inside and pierced his way through it. Number 8, Jesse Johnson was on his shoulder to take a pop pass, draw the man and give it back to Chait. Chait then returned the favour and Johnson was in under the posts.
The touch paper looked to have been lit for some more flowing rugby from the hosts but the errors continued and Chait then made the a costly mistake. Uncontested, he knocked on a high ball in his own 22. Three phases and a penalty later UJ were over for their own opening try.
The ball from a lineout was moved into the middle of the field and despite some stout defending, Tyler Brown used his 2 meter-high frame to reach over the line.
The rest of the first half flew by in the same manner. UJ tackling and Maties making mistakes.
Raphunga even had a chance to put UJ in the lead but his simple kick flicked the outside of the post.
Half time would have been a welcome solace for the men from Stellenbosch to regroup and attempt to find some cohesion to their play.
Two minutes in and the usually solid Du Toit spilled the ball forwards into one of his team mates and Raphunga had the chance to give the men in Orange a lead. He did just that and the tension inside the Danie Craven was palpable.
The clocked ticked on towards 65 minutes and after a clean break from Maties’ blindside flanker, Mitchell Carstens, the Maroons found themselves in the UJ 22 and winning a scrum penalty.
Relief was felt by the home fans as Chait edged them back into the lead with a successful strike of the ball.
Maties captain, Ernst van Rhyn and his side took full control of the game from here on in. Rolling mauls of 30 metres became potent weapons as Hooker HJ Luus guided his generals around the field with aplomb.
More penalties followed and Chait was more than happy to add to his tally for the evening.
UJ were broken finally and had no response but the way they had played in this most famous of Varsity Cup arenas shows how they are progressing and moving forwards as a squad.
Tenacious and courageous until the very final whistle and they more than played their part in yet another fantastic advert for Varsity Cup Rugby.
Relief, as opposed to joy, was etched on the faces of the Maties fans and players alike.