|Storming ahead: With the likes of Stormers' Joe Pietersen - here beating UCT's Pieter Engelbrecht to the ball - buoying their side, Maties beat UCT by 16-10 in the final of the Varsity Cup.|
The courageous Ikey Tigers might have gone down 10-16 to the Maties in the last minute of a see-saw final in the inaugural FNB Varsity Cup in Stellenbosch last Monday night, but they were voted the team that played the best rugby of the tournament.
Skippered by man-of-the-match and inspirational no 8 JJ Gagiano, the Ikeys ran in two sublime tries against the Maties, courtesy of wingers Matt Turner and Marcello Sampson.
But it was a case of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Ultimately, too little possession and poor kicking on the night cost them dearly.
Though leading 10-9 in to the final moments of the game, when they should have kicked the ball out after winning it from a scrum on their goal line, the Ikeys fluffed it. The University of Stellenbosch team swung it wide to Therlow Pietersen and the Ikeys' defence was too stretched to counter effectively.
But there's much to write home about this spirited young team, the majority of whom are under-21s, who produced what the sponsors called for: Rugby that Rocks.
Seeded eighth on the Varsity Cup log, their coveted team of the tournament award brought their winnings on a par with the Maties' R250 000 first prize. The Ikeys bagged R150 000 as runners-up and R100 000 for their team prize.
It was well deserved. With nine tries, Ikeys' Matt Turner was the top scorer in the league, followed by team-mate Marcello Sampson with eight.
Gagiano showed exemplary captaincy throughout. He used Ikeys' two white cards at pivotal moments, one to have a try disallowed and the other to have the TMO rule interference on the kicker.
White cards are a new addition to the league games. Each team is allowed two, one in each half. Captains can ask referees to refer decisions to the TMO, who may, if necessary, overrule the referee's decision.
This brought an interesting new dimension to the game. But there were other aspects of this final that had Ikeys supporters scratching their heads.
How did we manage to lose home advantage by playing in Stellenbosch? Yes, we know about the lights and SuperSport TV times, but when do marketing considerations override the top team's right to a home final?
And why were two Stormers' players, including Joe Pietersen, allowed to don maroon jerseys? The spirit of the Varsity Cup is to play amateurs and to develop young players for higher things - and not to flesh out a side that hasn't set the pitch alight.
At the tournament launch Francois Pienaar, chair of the FNB Varsity Cup board, said: "This competition should keep the next echelon of rugby players who are not entirely ready for the big scene yet, in the country, and help them develop their skills locally."
Aren't the Stormers the "big scene"? Their supporters and sponsors would like to think so.
Team manager Stephen Butt concurred, saying there had been a "gentleman's agreement" to use the tournament for development and transformation.
"People I spoke to afterwards said Joe Pietersen had been the difference between the teams on the night."
From here UCT's players go straight into the Super League A-side, with a tough schedule against "some professional outfits with big budgets".
"It doesn't get any easier for us," Butt said. "But we're building for the future and we hope to bring back some silverware this season."
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
Please view the republishing articles page for more information.