Cape Town — It would seem the only thing to stop Maties winning the Varsity Cup for a fourth time on Monday is self-doubt.
That the men from Stellenbosch University have not lifted the trophy for seven years puts pressure on them to deliver in front of their home supporters.
They are favourites to beat Pukke in the final at Danie Craven Stadium (kick-off 7pm) based on the brilliant rugby they have played this season.
The Maroon Machine is unbeaten (six wins, two draws), the stalemates recorded in the latter stages of the round-robin phase against Wits and Pukke.
Maties topped the nine-team standings ahead of one-time losers Pukke, earning both sides home semifinals. Maties thrashed Wits 65-16 and Pukke slaughtered UJ 60-31.
Break the duck
Maties coach Hawies Fourie will aim to break his duck in finals at the third attempt, knowing his side has not won a home final since completing a hat-trick of wins in 2010.
"I took charge in 2016 and have enjoyed coaching talented youngsters who have always given everything for the cause.
"This year’s crop is as good as any other I’ve coached and I can tell you they want this title badly," said Fourie. They will have a capacity home crowd behind them, and that’s going to be a huge plus factor.
"It’s a repeat of the 2016 final … We went down 7-6, a hard defeat to swallow. No doubt Pukke will want to follow suit but we will not surrender our turf without an almighty fight."
A confluence of individual brilliance and a brotherhood team dynamic has led to the Maroon Machine’s sublime run of form.
The front row of Chippie Oelofse (captain), Wilmar Arnoldi (hooker) and Neethling Fouche will again look to dominate in the scrums. They will be aided by two champion locks in Johan Momsen and Ernst van Rhyn. The pairing reigns supreme in the aerial disputes and never shy away from the physical confrontations. The back seven have been marshalled superbly by Chris Smith, who can turn a game at the drop of a hat with his range of skills.
Right wing Duncan Saal is the competition’s leading tryscorer with 10 touchdowns.
Pukke coach Jonathan Mokuena can call on myriad game-breakers with "The player that Rocks" nominee Walt Steenkamp and captain Tiaan Bezuidenhout putting in monstrous performances at the collision points.
Their backs have excelled as well, with flyhalf Schalk Hugo’s boot off both sides a key asset, especially when he is kicking for points.
Akhona Nela (inside centre) and Zimbabwean-born line-breaker Tapiwa Mafura (fullback with five tries) are dangerous runners. So too are wingers Jimmy Mpailane and Dean Stokes (five tries).
When asked if his side is taking inspiration from their win in 2016, Mokuena explained they are rather looking to create a new legacy. "Although 2016 was very good, what we did back in 2016 will not count for very much on Monday.
"We need to forget about what happened in the past and we need to focus on the opportunity that has presented itself for us on Monday.
"It’s going to be a big challenge, but that’s what rugby is about. If you want to be the best you have to beat the best."