Maties look a good bet to win the Varsity Cup title for an unprecedented fifth time on Monday night in what will be their fourth final in a row (7pm kickoff – live on SuperSport).
The defending champions square off with three-time winners Tuks at the Danie Craven Stadium.
The men from Stellenbosch University have gone unbeaten with nine wins in the 11th instalment of the competition and have not lost a match since going down to Tukkies in the 2017 final in Pretoria (28-21).
Tuks know how to beat Maties in their backyard; in 2013 they clocked up a 44-5 victory that did not go down well with the home faithful. They felt the Pretoria students had flouted the tournament rules by fielding players doing part-time courses instead of proper degrees and made their feelings known by booing the champions at the prize-giving ceremony.
Organisers have since closed any possible loopholes and whoever lifts the trophy will be worthy winners.
Maties are a well-drilled lot under head coach Hawies Fourie, and it has been that way since he took on the role in 2016. This season the Maroon Machine has dished up brilliant 15-man rugby and seen off all challengers.
Only Tuks put up a fight against Maties as shown in their 24-26 home loss in the pool phase. They have since gone on a five-game unbeaten run and claimed second place in the nine-team standings behind Maties before the knockout phase.
This secured both of them home semifinals which they duly won to set up a titanic final match that will be watched by a capacity crowd of 17,000. The majority will be backing Maties, and so Tuks have it all to do if they want to end up on the right side of the result and equal Maties’ record of titles won.
Fourie admits that his charges took Tuks too lightly in the round-robin phase.
“We underestimated them and came close to losing. It won’t happen again,” he said. "We set out to go unbeaten for the second year running and it is one to go to make it 20 games unbeaten.
“It’s been a collective effort from game one from a tight-knit bunch of guys who bat for one another. There have been lapses in our standard of play here and there but not once did we allow opposing forces a sniff at victory bar Tuks.
“We scrummed well, jumped well and ran well with our back seven and scored many great tries. I can’t complain, to be honest.”
Fourie, whose team have won 32 of 38 matches, can call on a host of game-breakers. In hooker Daniel Jooste (six tries this season) they have a man who relishes taking the game to the opposition in the tight phases, and from the back of a rolling maul towards the try line is an unstoppable force.
The same can be said of hooker HJ Luus (five five-pointers). Flyhalf Jordan Chait — whose father Anton played senior rugby for Western Province — is a tall, athletic youngster with a prodigious boot, and when it comes to scoring tries, needs no second invitation; he has six touchdowns already.
Leftwing Edwill van der Merwe is the tournament’s overall leading try scorer (23), six of them dotted down in what will be his final year of eligibility.
Then there is the tall fullback Anton du Toit, who got a brace last week in the semi win over Shimlas to take his tally to six as well. Chris Smit at inside centre is a handful with his gainline breaks and deft kicks and it will be no surprise to see him as one of the nominees for the Overall Player that Rocks award.
Tuks have a general in the form of flyhalf Tinus de Beer, the all-time leading points scorer (228). He produced yet another masterful display against Pukke last week to get his side into the show game.
His clever cross kicks have netted the catcher tries and his calm demeanour and reading of the situation make him a big threat to the home side. As for their forwards, the loose trio of Denzel Hill, Hanru Sirgel and Stephan Smit need to be quick to the breakdowns to force turnovers into potential points.
Big winger Ciaran Dayaram boasts five tries but will not be playing in the final.
Tuks captain Marius Verwey knows that giving Maties any sort of momentum is a recipe for disaster.
“We must make sure we don’t give them that. As for playing them in their backyard, we’ve done well at Danie Craven, so we go there with quiet confidence and must make sure we stick to what we do best for the full 80 minutes,” he said.