Maties went into this decider determined to channel the energy and aura of the Danie Craven Stadium, while, UP-Tuks spoke about silencing the home crowd in their quest to win a second consecutive title.
While the home fans made their presence felt in the first half, they were more subdued in the second. The decision to award Van der Linde a late try – despite video replays which suggested that a pass in the build-up may have travelled forward – was not well received by the Maties faithful.
By contrast, the UP-Tuks fans at the ground rejoiced. The try, and ultimately the result, ensured that Nico Luus’ side claimed its second consecutive title.
The Maties pack dominated the scrums and breakdowns in the first half, while the backs – flyhalf Nevaldo Fleurs in particular – converted pressure into territory and points.
UP-Tuks struggled to retain possession and were uncharacteristically porous on defence. While they came into this clash with plenty of intent and aggression, they lacked the necessary accuracy and discipline.
The visitors conceded 11 penalties in the first half alone. Maties made the defending champs pay for their mistakes. An unmarked Mike Mavovana claimed a superb cross-kick by Taigh Schoor to score the opening try. Fleurs kicked five penalties to ensure that the hosts went to the break with a 20-10 lead.
The momentum shifted in the second stanza, however, after UP-Tuks delivered a more precise showing at the collisions and set pieces. Kabelo Mokoena scored in the 53rd minute to bring his side back into the contest. UP-Tuks crossed the line again – but were denied after Maties used their white card challenge to identify a knock-on in the build-up.
UP-Tuks continue to apply the pressure. When Mokoena scored his second try in the 70th minute, the visitors were within sight of a dramatic and unlikely victory. Maties failed to finish a scoring chance at the other end, and then allowed the visitors one final opportunity.
Coetzee launched an audacious attack from within his own half, and beat several defenders. The fullback managed to offload to Van der Linde, who showed exceptional pace to finish. Maties used their white card challenge to query the pass by Coetzee to Van der Linde.
TMO Egon Seconds ruled that the pass was not obviously forward, and so the decision to award the try was upheld. With this result, UP-Tuks have equalled Maties’ record of five FNB Varsity Cup titles.
Earlier, UP-Tuks beat the NWU Eagles 22-14 in the FNB Young Guns final. It was Tuks’ sixth title in eight editions of the U20 tournament and avenged their only loss of the group stage to the Eagles in Potchefstroom.
Flyhalf Jean-Pierre Wentzel kicked five penalty goals and converted hooker Ruan van Blommestein’s 19th-minute try, which came from a lineout driving maul. NWU Eagles flyhalf Alec Vermaak kicked three penalty goals, while left wing Simuthembile Ntleki scored his side’s only try early in the first half when two Tuks players failed to challenge him for the ball in the air on halfway.
However, Ntleki knocked on with an open tryline a few minutes later, which proved costly as Wentzel slotted three penalties to secure the title for Tuks. Tuks tighthead prop Mawande Mdanda was rewarded for a dominant scrum showing with the FNB Player That Rocks award.
Scorers - FNB Varsity Cup final:
FNB Maties 23 (20) – Try: Mike Mavovana. Penalty goals: Nevaldo Fleurs (6).
FNB UP-Tuks 29 (10) – Tries: Bernard van der Linde (2x7), Kabelo Mokoena (2). Conversion: Walter Visser. Penalty goal: Stefan Coetzee.
FNB Varsity Cup tournament award winners:
FNB Player That Rocks: George Lourens (FNB UFS Shimlas)
FNB Back That Rocks: Nevaldo Fleurs (FNB Maties)
FNB Forward That Rocks: Thabo Ndimande (FNB UFS Shimlas)
Scorers - FNB Young Guns final:
FNB NWU Eagles 14 (9) – Try: Simuthembile Ntleki. Penalty goals: Alec Vermaak (3).
FNB UP-Tuks 22 (7) – Try: Ruan van Blommestein. Conversion: Jean-Pierre Wentzel. Penalty goals: Wentzel (5).