A LATE penalty from replacement Rhyno Smith saw NWU-Pukke clinch a 19-18 victory over NMMU in Potchefstroom to set up their first everhome Varsity Cup final.
Pukke will host the UCT Ikey Tigers in the final on April 7 after edging the Madibaz in a dramatic finish as the side went down by a single point in their second consecutive semifinal. The home side made the early running as they surged into the NMMU 22 with purpose, and it was not long before flank Rhyk Welgemoed dived over for the opening try next to the posts.
There was no respite for the Madibaz as Pukke got right back on the front foot and some quick hands saw wing Luther Obi get over for their second try which gave them a healthy 13-0 lead inside the opening 10 minutes.
NMMU had hardly got their hands on the ball, and they made their first foray into opposition territory as they looked for a response, but Andile Jho was denied a try after being put over the line by a forward pass.
The Madibaz had the upper hand at scrum time, but they could not take advantage as a few basic errors cost them points.
The visitors continued to pile on the pressure and things got even tougher for Pukke when hooker Armand van der Merwe was shown a yellow card for repeated infringements in the 22.
NMMU took advantage straight awayas flank Chris Cloete peeled off a maul to charge over for their first try, with the conversion from flyhalf Gavin Hauptfleisch cutting Pukke’s lead to 13-8 at the halftime break.
Two penalties from Pukke centre Adriaan Engelbrecht early in the second half saw them stretch their lead to 17-8, before some last-ditch defending saw them deny the Madibaz from scoring in the corner.
However, the visitors struck soon afterwards as they launched a breathtaking counter-attack from their own territory after absorbing plenty of pressure from the hosts.
Fullback Jarryd Buys picked the ball up off his bootlaces and threw a neat dummy before releasing wing Tythan Adams, who finished well, with Hauptfleisch’s conversion reducing the gap to 17-16.
NMMU took the lead for the first time with just 12 minutes left to play when Buys slotted a drop-goal which set up a tense finish.
However, Smith stepped up with just two minutes left on the clock and sent the ball sailing through the uprights to the delight of the crowd to break the Madibaz’ hearts.
In the earlier match, UCT booked their place in the final with a dominant 20-8 victory over Maties on a wet Green Mile. – Michael de Vries