A late penalty from replacement Rhyno Smith saw FNB NWU-Pukke clinch a 19-18 victory over NMMU in Potchefstroom to set up their first-ever home FNB Varsity Cup presented by Steinhoff International final.
NWU-Pukke will host the FNB UCT Ikey Tigers in the final on April 7 after edging the Madibaz in a dramatic finish as the Eastern Cape side went down by a single point in their second consecutive semifinal.
The home side made the early running as they surged into the NMMU 22 with purpose, and it was not long before flank Rhyk Welgemoed dived over for the opening try next to the posts.
There was no respite for the Madibaz as NWU-Pukke got right back on the front foot and some quick hands saw wing Luther Obi get over for their second try which gave them a healthy 13-0 lead inside the opening ten minutes.
NMMU had hardly got their hands on the ball, and they made their first foray into opposition territory as they looked for a response, but Andile Jho was denied a try after being put over the line by a forward pass.
The Madibaz had the upper hand at scrum-time, but they could not take advantage as a few basic errors cost them points, and NWU-Pukke took their 13-0 advantage into the first strategy break.
The visitors continued to pile on the pressure and things got even tougher for NWU-Pukke when hooker Armand van der Merwe was shown a yellow card for repeated infringements in the 22.
NMMU took advantage straight away as flank Chris Cloete peeled off a maul to charge over for their first try, with the conversion from flyhalf Gavin Hauptfleisch cutting NWU-Pukke’s lead to 13-8 at the half-time break
Two penalties from NWU-Pukke centre Adriaan Engelbrecht early in the second half saw them stretch their lead to 17-8, before some last-ditch defending saw them deny the Madibaz from scoring in the corner.
However, the visitors struck soon afterwards as they launched a breathtaking counter-attack from their own territory after absorbing plenty of pressure from the hosts.
Fullback Jarryd Buys picked the ball up off his bootlaces and threw a neat dummy before releasing wing Tythan Adams who finished well, with Hauptfleisch’s conversion reducing the gap to 17-16 at the second strategy break.
NMMU took the lead for the first time with just 12 minutes left to play when Buys slotted a drop-goal which set up a tense finish as both teams chased a first-ever home final.
However, Smith stepped up with just two minutes left on the clock and sent the ball sailing through the uprights to the delight of the crowd to break Madibaz hearts.
For FNB NWU-Pukke:
Tries: Welgemoed, Obi
Pens: Engelbrecht 2, Smith
For FNB NMMU Madibaz:
Tries: Cloete, Adams
Cons: Hauptfleisch 2
FNB NWU-Pukke: 15 Sylvian Mahuza, 14 Edmar Marais, 13 Jaap Pienaar, 12 Adriaan Engelbrecht, 11 Luther Obi, 10 Johnny Welthagen, 9, Tiaan Dorfling (captain), 8 Juan Language, 7 Rhyk Welgemoed, 6 Philip de Wet, 5 Francois Robbertse, 4 Peet van der Walt, 3 Nhlanhla Ngcamu, 2 Armand van der Merwe, 1 Mashudu Mafela.
Replacements: 16 Marius Fourie, 17 Johan Smith, 18 Daniel Jordaan, 19 Robey Labuschagne, 20 Dillon Smit, 21 Rhyno Smith, 22 Lucien Cupido, John-Roy Jenkinson.
FNB NMMU Madibaz: 15 Jarryd Buys, 14 Tythan Adams, 13 Michael Bernardt, 12 Andile Jho, 11 Yamkela Ngam, 10 Gavin Hauptfleisch, 9 Daniel Acker, 8 Marcel Groenewald, 7 Stefan Willemse, 6 Christopher Cloete, 5 Cameron Lindsay, 4 Louis Fourie, 3 Dexter Fahey, 2 Martin Ferreira, 1 Roy Godfrey (captain).
Replacements: 16 Jody Reynecke, 17 Abongile Mnyaka, 18 Timothy Agaba, 19 Wade Elliot, 20 Kayle van Zyl, 21 Devon Lailvaux, 22 Sinakho Mafu, 23 Simon Kerrod.
Yellow card: Armand van der Merwe (NWU-Pukke, 28 mins – repeated infringements)
Referees: Jaco Kotze, Tahla Ntshakaza
Assistant referees: Archie Sehlako, James van Oudtshoorn
TMO: Johan Greeff