Edwill van der Merwe’s hat-trick of tries against Pukke on March 4 took his tally for the season to five and 22 overall, making the Maties left wing the leading try scorer in the history of the Varsity Cup.

The former Paul Roos pupil is in his final year in the competition that began in 2008.

Maties won the first three editions but had to wait eight years to add to their tally after destroying Potchefstroom Pukke 40-7 at the Danie Craven Stadium in 2018.

The two sides were at it again at the same venue in Stellenbosch last Monday, and a similar result played out as the defending champions cruised to a 40-15 victory to make it five wins in a row and maintain their lead in the nine-team standings with a 24-point haul from a possible 25.

Van der Merwe, surprisingly, has been unable to play at a higher level. The former SA Schools and SA Junior player though, is highly rated by his coach, Hawies Fourie.

“Edwill is a classy player who should by now have been given a chance to play at senior level. He’s got speed and vision and is a team man, which is a vital commodity in team sport. We’re just glad he’s in our camp,” Fourie said.

“It’s his final year at this level and I expect to see him touch down many more times,” he said.

Fourie, who has penned a new three-year contract with Maties, is in his fourth year at the helm and is chasing a fourth final appearance and second title. The former Boland and Griquas senior head coach is never one to shout his mouth off about his team’s chances against any rival, and it has been no different for Monday’s match with UJ, who picked up their first win of their campaign of five outings so far, beating Wits 39-16.

“Past UJ teams were always a handful … but this season their results haven’t been what one would expect,” said Fourie.

“But the home victory over Wits, who gave us a hard time in the opening round, shows them to be on the up, and we welcome them to our field wary of what lies ahead.

“That said, my boys are a special lot. I cast my mind back to the Maties sides I’ve coached and the current class trumps [them] in fight and camaraderie. They play for each other and give it their all, and the reward has been an unbeaten run. They want to keep it that way until the very end of the competition.”

Second-placed Tuks make the trip to Bloemfontein to take on third-placed Shimlas (kickoff 7pm, live on SuperSport) at Shimla Park. Three-time champions Tuks have bagged four wins to go with the loss to Maties while Shimmies have racked up three wins and a home loss to Pukke.

“It’s always a physical scrap with Tuks and we have during the week prepared for such an occasion. We take it a game at a time in pursuit of a play-off spot and now there is a chance to strengthen our claims,” said Shimmies captain Henk Pretorius.

Tuks captain Marius Verwey said they know Shimlas like to run the ball and “we will try and stop that from happening”.

Winless league rookies UWC, who prop up the log, entertain second-bottom CUT at the UWC Sports Fields (kickoff 4.45pm, live on SuperSport). It has been four defeats in a row for UWC and three for CUT (one win) from the same number of games.

My money is on Chester Williams’s boys opening their account in front of their home supporters.

Pukke meet UCT and have the home advantage.