It was a bridge too far – only just – for FNB Wits in their Varsity Cup, Round Four clash against the FNB Maties in Stellenbosch on Monday night.
Wits, winless in the FNB Varsity Cup presented by Steinhoff International since being promoted in 2013, went down 15-18 to the three-times champions at a very windy Danie Craven Stadium.
It was not quite vintage stuff from the hosts who scored all three of their tries when Wits were a man down – the Men from Johannesburg having a player sin-binned in each half – but Stellenbosch will certainly take the win after losing their previous home game (to FNB UCT) in the 2014 Varsity Cup.
Tonight’s win means the Maties have now played four, won two and lost two this season, whilst Wits remain rooted to the bottom of the log after four rounds of action in 2014. The one consolation, however, is that Wits did manage a losing bonus point – their first log point of the season.
FNB Wits made all the early running in this match, with the wind at their backs, and No.8 Jason Fraser – the official Man of the Match in a losing cause – crashed over inside the first ten minutes when he took a quick tap-penalty.
Wits were unable to convert, but they doubled their score shortly after the first strategy break when flyhalf Ashlon Davids scored a stunning try – the result of some fine interplay between scrumhalf Mathew Torrance, fullback Ruhan Nel and the try-scorer Davids.
The conversion was missed again but at 10-0 Wits would have been pleased heading into half-time – knowing that they would be playing into the wind in the second half. However, Wits saw lock JJ Breet yellow-carded shortly before the break for foul play and Maties hit back with a try by hooker Freddie Kirsten – the teams heading into their respective dressing-rooms at 10-5 in Wits’ favour.
The wind was always going to be a huge factor in the second half – with the Maties having it behind them – but the hosts found themselves up against determined opponents for most of the second forty minutes.
Another yellow card, just after the 50-minute mark (this time for a technical infringement), again handed Maties the numerical advantage at a crucial stage and lock Jan de Klerk’s try, in the 56th minute, saw the teams draw level at 10-10.
The Maties eventually took the lead when flyhalf Robert du Preez – the son of FNB NWU-Pukke head coach Robert – crossed for his team’s third five-pointer, crucially, however, the Stellenbosch pivot adding the conversion for an 18-10 lead over a passionate 14-man Wits team.
The final 20 minutes saw Wits restored to 15 men, but the strong wind contributed to keep them at bay right up until the final act of play when another superb team effort saw the visitors notch up their third try in the corner through fullback Nel.
The conversion was always going to be a bridge too far given the wind and the acute angle, meaning Maties could breathe a huge sigh of relief as the final whistle was sounded.
For FNB Maties:
Tries: Kirsten, De Klerk, Du Preez
Con: Du Preez
For FNB Wits:
Tries: Fraser, Davids, Nel
FNB Maties: 15 Craig Barry, 14 Clearance Khumalo, 13 Mark Hodgskiss, 12 Louis Jordaan, 11 Caleb Smith, 10 Robert du Preez, 9 Jean Nel, 8 Tertius Daniller (captain), 7 Helmut Lehmann, 6 Beyers de Villiers, 5 Wilhelm van der Sluys, 4 Jan de Klerk, 3 Nicol Heyns, 2 Freddie Kirsten, 1 Niel Oelofse.
Replacements: 16 Charl de Villiers, 17 Wesley Adonis, 18 John Groenewald, 19 Lungelo Chonco, 20 Louis Nel, 21 Chris Smith, 22 Ben Kotze, 23 Liam Hendricks.
FNB Wits: 15 Ruhan Nel, 14 Mandla Dube, 13 Divan Ferguson, 12 Brent Crossley, 11 Nkuli Gamede, 10 Ashlon Davids, 9 Mathew Torrance, 8 Jason Fraser, 7 Senna Esterhuizen, 6 JP Jonck, 5 JJ Breet, 4 Devin Montgomery (captain), 3 Kelly Ferdinand, 2 Ashley Kohler, 1 Hannes Ludick.
Replacements: 16 James Marx, 17 Kyle Wood, 18 Conor Brockschmidt, 19 Thato Mavundla, 20 Rendani Ramovha, 21 Ish Nkolo, 22 Joshua Jarvis, 23 Gideon Muller.
Referees: Francois Pretorius, Quinton Immelman