Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

Champions Maties welcome Shimlas to the Danie Craven Stadium (7pm kickoff) in the second Varsity Cup semifinal on Monday, while the first semi sees Tuks entertaining Pukke at Tuks Stadium (4.30pm kickoff).

Maties won all eight games in the group phase earning the Stellenbosch students top spot in the nine-team standings.

Tuks ended second, Pukke third and Shimlas fourth. Maties are hot favourites to beat Shimmies in front of their home supporters and book a place in the final for the fourth consecutive year and ninth time overall.

They are on a 18-game winning run that stretches back to 2018  and it is likely to continue as the Maroon Machine sets sail for a fourth-straight final appearance.

The four-time champions have reached the last-four for a record ninth time and are eyeing a record fifth title since the inception of the tournament in 2008.

Shimmies, the 2016 winners, will be contesting a semi for only the second time and it is going to need a special effort from the Bloemfontein students to progress to the final when you factor in the severe beating they took on home turf from Maties in the penultimate round of matches.

The visitors hit top gear in the second half and cruised to a 59-14 victory (eight tries to two) for their third 50-plus points haul for the season.

A repeat performance seems a reality, but Maties coach Hawies Fourie is not taking a win for granted.

“It was a tight-first half against them in the league phase and we only got the better of them in the final 40 minutes. We now meet in a one-off clash, and yes, we do have home advantage which is a massive plus for us because Danie Craven Stadium will be full to the brim, but we cannot take anything for granted, that kind of mindset is a recipe for disaster.

“That said, my squad is a closely knit bunch and in my fourth year as head coach I can honestly say the class of 2019 have shown a brotherhood unlike I’ve seen before. Young men who are willing to fight as one in pursuit of glory, and that is all a coach can ask for.”

There are key players aplenty for Fourie, none more so than left-wing Edwill van der Merwe, the leading try scorer in the history of the competition. He surpassed injured teammate Duncan Saals’s mark of 21 earlier in the campaign with a hat-trick against Pukke.

The Paul Roos old boy and junior Springbok has not been able to add to his tally of five for the season, but in his final year at this level will be a threat with his speed and vision. He will be banking on his talented flyhalf Jordan Chiaat, who scored a hat-trick of tries against UWC, spreading the ball wide at every opportunity to help his cause and that of the other outside backs, with the centre pairing of Chris Smit and David Brits set to cause havoc when placed on the front foot.

But the backs need their forwards to lay the foundation and that has been the case throughout the season, but for the odd hiccup.

Shimmies have dotted down 34 tries this season, the third most behind Tuks (38) and Maties (52) and top the charts in terms of passes completed (1,264).

Their best hopes rest with playing an expansive game and relying on their loose trio of Albertus de Bod, Menzi Nhlabathi and Jan Rossouw getting to the breakdowns first.

Three-time winners Tuks have been the most improved side this season. They finished seventh in 2018 and have suffered only two defeats, to UCT and Maties.

The Pretoria students hammered 2016 champs Pukke 28-0 in Potchefstroom first time round and should complete the double on home turf  this time.

Flyhalf Tinus de Beer is their talisman and holds the key to victory as long as his engine room staff can handle the heat expected from the visiting pack who stand back for no-one, and keep an eye out for dynamic speedster Damian Bonaparte at fullback.

Pukke have been on the receiving end of a couple of blows, but have dished out an equal number to Wits and CUT, so let’s see how they cope with the challenge awaiting them away from the comforts of home.