FNB NWU-Pukke will host FNB UCT in their first home FNB Varsity Cup presented by Steinhoff International final after both teams secured semifinal victories on Monday night.
The Potchefstroom outfit, who topped the standings after losing just one game all season, left it late to edge a valiant FNB NMMU Madibaz side in a pulsating play-off that was in the balance until the final whistle.
They will face an impressive Ikey Tigers side that handed old rivals FNB Maties a 20-8 defeat in wet and windy conditions on the Green Mile in Cape Town.
The Cape derby was scoreless at half-time, but the supremacy of the Ikeys pack told in the second half as they did the season double over Maties to qualify for their first final since they took the title back in 2011.
The home side were playing with the wind at their backs after half-time and they made it count as they raced out to a 20-0 lead, with Maties’ late consolation try not enough to see the three-time champions through to a sixth final.
NWU-Pukke were almost denied by the valiant Madibaz who took the lead for the first time in the match with ten minutes left on the clock before NWU-Pukke replacement Rhyno Smith stepped up to slot a late penalty which sealed a tight 19-18 win and send the packed crowd into raptures.
It was NMMU’s second consecutive one-point semifinal defeat, with Maties denying them by the same margin in Stellenbosch last year, and they will be left to consider what might have been after missing out on what would have been their first final.
The hosts had taken control of the game early on with two tries in the first ten minutes, but the Madibaz fought back and eventually took the lead through a Jarryd Buys drop-goal, only to have their hearts broken at the death.
This means that the Fanie du Toit Sports Grounds in Potchefstroom will host its first-ever final on April 7 when the two form teams in the competition this season do battle.
In the Varsity Shield John Mitchell’s FNB UKZN Impi set up a replay with the FNB CUT Ixias in the final next week after they handed the two-time champions a 39-21 defeat in Pietermaritzburg.
The bonus-point victory sent the KwaZulu-Natal side through to their first-ever final which means that they have a chance of qualifying for promotion to the Varsity Cup.
That result ended FNB Fort Hare’s hopes of reaching the final, as although the Eastern Cape side beat the FNB TUT Vikings 38-36 in Alice, it was not enough to overhaul the Impi who will travel to Bloemfontein next week to face the Ixias.
Next week will also see the Varsity Young Guns final between two-time champions FNB UP-Tuks Young Guns and FNB UFS Young Guns who saw off the challenges of Steinhoff Junior Maties and FNB UJ Young Guns respectively.
UP-Tuks are yet to lose a single game in the three seasons that the competition has been running, so they will be favourites on home soil against a UFS side that handed UJ their first defeat of the season.
The Steinhoff Koshuisrugby Championships saw two home wins in the semifinals as well as UFS’ Steinhoff Heimat and Steinhoff Patria from NWU maintained their unbeaten records this season.
Heimat saw off the challenge of last year’s beaten finalists Steinhoff Medies in Bloemfontein whilst Patria proved too strong for the Steinhoff Purple Cobras from UCT to set up their final which will be played before the Varsity Cup final in a fortnight’s time.