FNB UCT secured a fifth home semifinal in the FNB Varsity Cup presented by Steinhoff International with a clinical 20-5 win over FNB Wits at the Wits Rugby Stadium in Johannesburg.
The hosts were chasing a first-ever Varsity Cup victory in two seasons ahead of their final match in this competition, their bottom-of-the-log finish condemning them to automatic relegation.
UCT, meanwhile, were on the hunt for a first semifinal since 2011 and also for a four-try bonus point – knowing full well that a bonus point win and a loss for FNB NWU-Pukke would result in a top-of-the-table finish.
NWU-Pukke, however, secured a hard-fought win over 24-20 win over a resilient FNB UJ side in Potchefstroom, meaning they would finish the regular season in first place with the Ikeys – the 2011 champions – finishing in second position.
Their reward for finishing second? A 2014 semifinal meeting with their Western Cape rivals the FNB Maties, who, as UCT were scoring five tries in Johannesburg, scored five of their own tries to secure a seminal and knocking out the defending champion FNB UP-Tuks in the process.
The Ikeys ran into an early 10-0 lead in Johannesburg in this final league match for both sides, right-wing Richard Stewart and left-wing Lihleli Xoli both crossing before the night’s first strategy break.
The score remained unchanged as the teams went into half-time, but the visitors finished the first half strongly as they finally began to put phases together – UCT, meanwhile, were guilty of not taking their chances on attack, fullback Martin Sauls knocking on three times in strong attacking positions.
Sauls, however, made up for his misdemeanours in the first half when he scored the Ikeys’ third try as the teams headed off for the second strategy break, flyhalf Dean Grant missing his third tough conversion on the night.
But Grant’s missed conversions were never going to matter in this game, despite Wits’ determination to finish their two years in the Varsity Cup with their heads held high.
Powerhouse lock Shaun McDonald, responsible as always for most of UCT’s go-forward with ball in hand, scored his team’s bonus point try in the 70th minute and replacement back Nathan Nel crossed two minutes from full-time to put the icing on the cake for the Men from Cape Town.
Coach Kevin Musikanth will be delighted with his debut season at the helm of the Ikeys, but the former False Bay mentor will no doubt already be eyeing next week’s semifinal against old foes Maties – the first time they will meet in the semifinals, having previously met in two Varsity Cup Finals (in 2008 and 2010).
For FNB Wits:
For FNB UCT:
Tries: Stewart, Xoli, Sauls, McDonald, Nel
FNB Wits: 15 Ruhan Nel, 14 Mandla Dube, 13 Divan Ferguson, 12 Brent Crossley, 11 Riaan Arends, 10 Ashlon Davids, 9 Mathew Torrance, 8 Jason Fraser, 7 Senna Esterhuizen, 6 JP Jonck, 5 Rendani Ramovha, 4 Devin Montgomery (captain), 3 Gideon Muller, 2 Ashley Kohler, 1 Hannes Ludik.
Replacements: 16 Thato Mavundla, 17 Kyle Wood, 18 Peter van Biljon, 19 Conor Brockschmidt, 20 Jason Jarvis, 21 Wilton Pietersen, 22 Nkuli Gamede, 23 Kelly Ferdinand.
FNB UCT: 15 Martin Sauls, 14 Richard Stewart, 13 Huw Jones, 12 Guy Schwikkard, 11 Lihleli Xoli, 10 Dean Grant, 9 James Alexander (captain), 8 Guy Alexander, 7 Vince Jobo, 6 Michael Botha, 5 James Kilroe, 4 Shaun McDonald, 3 Digby Webb, 2 Neil Rautenbach, 1 Joel Carew.
Replacements: 16 Msizi Zondi, 17 Robin Murray, 18 Jason Klaasen, 19 Kyle Kriel, 20 Liam Slatem, 21 Ross Jones-Davies, 22 Nathan Nel, 23 David Maasch.
Referees: Oregopotse Rametsi, Archie Sehlako