FNB Maties showed tremendous grit and character in overcoming a competitive FNB Shimlas side to secure a hard-fought 31-15 Varsity Cup victory in a windy Stellenbosch on Monday night.
Despite the howling wind, the Stellenbosch faithful flocked to the legendary Danie Craven Stadium to witness another victorious, if not entirely convincing, performance from their beloved team.
Maties controlled most of the early possession, but their phase play could not break down the committed Shimlas defence. Flyhalf Conrad Hoffmann had an early penalty chance, but he over-estimated the cross-wind and pulled the ball left. The Shimlas returned the favour with a spurned penalty shot of their own, but minutes later the visitors opened the scoring.
Shimlas flank Willie Britz picked and went on the Maties 22 and burst through a gaping hole in the usually frugal Maties defence to dot down under the poles.
Fullback George Whitehead’s conversion gave the Bloemfontein side a surprise 7-0 lead. The Shimlas managed to stay in front until half-time, but Maties managed to cut the lead to just a solitary point going into the break with two converted tries from Josh Strauss and Matthew Dobson.
Strauss, on as a blood replacement for starting flank Jonathan Adendorf, powered over after a Shimlas mistake inside their own 22 put them under tremendous pressure on their own line. Hooker Dobson earned his try from similar range, as Maties looked impressive when their powerful pack kept the ball at close quarters.
Dobson’s try came on the stroke of half-time, and the 14-15 score put a favourable look to 40 minutes of rugby where Shimlas were the more impressive side. The Free Staters competed aggressively at the breakdown and used the wind cleverly, with some neat tactical kicking by Whitehead and No.10 Reinhardt Erwee often putting the Maties back three under pressure.
One such kick led to Earl Snyman’s 34th minute try. A Hoffmann clearance was collected by dangerous wing Jamba Ulengo, who fed Whitehead. The fullback popped a clever chip over the Maties defence for right-wing Divandré Strydom to collect. Strydom fed to Snyman, who dived over to score.
That try, and a Whitehead drop-goal minutes earlier, gave the Shimlas a 15-7 lead, which they looked likely to carry to the break until Dobson’s effort cut the deficit to one.
After the break the game opened up, and the sides alternated attacking opportunities without being able to penetrate two firm-looking defensive units. That trend continued until 10 minutes into the half, when a Shimlas mistake gave the Maties their chance to lead for the first time in the match.
Whitehead was too casual in recovering a rolling ball at the back, and he was pounced on by Danie Poolman, who snatched the ball right from the Shimlas fullback’s hands. The big wing charged towards the line, but was held up a metre short. The Shimlas were penalised in their desperate scramble to get back and Maties had no hesitation in calling for a scrum.
A try seemed inevitable, and after a couple of the forwards tried their best to join fellow big men Dobson and Strauss on the scorecard, it was Hoffmann who eventually pierced the Shimlas’ line. That score, and Hoffman’s third conversion, put the Maties in the lead for the first time, and it was clear that it was a lead they would not surrender.
The crowd smelled blood and with every tackle the cheers grew louder. Similarly, as the decibels rose the hits got bigger, and every Shimlas move from then on was cut down by a swarm of maroon jerseys.
There was a carnival atmosphere in the final 10 minutes, as the massive home support saw their side home to a fourth consecutive bonus-point win in their quest to defend their title for a third season in a row.
A Hoffmann penalty, and a last-minute try from substitute Jonathan Francke, sealed the win and put the cap on another strong showing from Stellenbosch; with Hoffmann, centre Stephan van der Merwe (in his first start of the season) and No.8 Tertius Daniller leading the Maties charge.
As for Shimlas, they can certainly be proud of their effort and if they keep up this form, a spot in the semifinals is not beyond them.
If this game proved anything, it is that while the Men in Maroon are not unstoppable, it would take a brave soul to bet against them making it three Varsity Cup triumphs in as many attempts when final time rolls around at the end of March.
For FNB Maties:
Tries: Strauss, Dobson, Hoffmann, Francke
Cons: Hoffmann 4
For FNB Shimlas:
Tries: Britz, Snyman
Maties: 15 Jurgen Visser, 14 Danie Poolman, 13 Stokkies Hanekom, 12 Stephan van der Merwe, 11 Tythan Adams, 10 Conrad Hoffmann, 9 Johan Herbst, 8 Tertius Daniller, 7 Jonathan Adendorf, 6 Sam Mabombo, 5 Marinus Pretorius, 4 Andrew Prior, 3 Lourens Adriaanse (captain), 2 Matthew Dobson, 1 Johan Roets.
Replacements: 16 Andrew Crausaz, 17 Mike De Neuilly-Rice, 18 Cameron Peverett, 19 Josh Strauss, 20 André Kemp, 21 Adnaan Oesman, 22 Jonathan Francke, 23 Buhle Mxunuywa.
Shimlas: 15 George Whitehead, 14 Divandré Strydom, 13 Earl Snyman, 12 Wayne Stevens (captain), 11 Jamba Ulengo, 10 Reinhardt Erwee, 9 Jaco Colyn, 8 Boom Prinsloo, 7 Willie Britz, 6 Hanno Pieterse, 5 Lebo Zietsman, 4 Joubert Horn, 3 Marcel van der Merwe, 2 Hans Grobler, 1 Ian Potgieter.
Replacements: 16 PW van Vuuren, 17 Charles Marais, 18 Wilken Heyns, 19 Sybrand Mostert, 20 Marlin Ruiters, 21 Johan van Schalkwyk, 22 Beast Ndwandwa, 23 Vaatjie Koorsen.
Referee: François Veldsman
[Info from www.varsitycup.co.za ]