JOHANNESBURG – The UJ rugby team claimed a narrow win against the University of Cape Town (Ikeys), in an epic battle at the UJ Stadium during their 9th round fixture of the Varsity Cup 11 on Monday night.
Expectations of this 9th round fixture were exceedingly high as the ‘do or die’ encounter was set to determine a spot in the upcoming semi-finals for both teams.
Going into the game, Ikeys were lurking just under UJ on 5th position on the log table. Although UJ comfortably sat on 4th position with a semi-final spot already within their reach, it made them favourites to win the match, but pressure was there on both teams.
“I think more pressure was on UJ; they had the higher lock position and we’ve been kind of the underdogs for the past two seasons,” said Ikeys coach, Christiaan Esterhuizen, after the game when speaking to The Open Journal.
However, the furious battle was vigorously fought and when the dust settled at the stadium, the Orange army came out victorious. It was definitely not a stroll in the park as reflected on the scoreboard: 18-17, one-point gap between the teams.
“That UCT side played a hell of a good game. We can’t take anything away from them. They were hungry and came at us like you won’t believe,” admitted the UJ coach, Werner Ven Rensburg.
Nail-biting, raging and high-pressured intensity punctuated the game as both teams fought to the last minute.
The first half kick started on high note as Ikeys pressured UJ heavily; however, all was to no avail as UJ’s defence held strong.
For a moment, UJ managed to regain composure and drew first blood with a five point try from the fast-paced Ronald Brown on the 10th minute mark. The subsequent kick was successfully converted by Kobus Englebrecht to give UJ a 7-0 upper edge on Ikeys.
Nonetheless, Ikeys came to play and proved it by putting resounding pressure on UJ. Subsequently, the pressure awarded Ikeys a five point try on the 17th minute spot which was unsuccessfully converted. That significantly altered the score board, 7-5, to close the gap by UJ.
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As the game progressed, tables turned unexpectedly and UJ conceded another blow towards the end of the first half, which gave a rejuvenated Ikeys team a 10-7 lead on the half time mark.
Proceedings for the second half favoured UJ as it managed to convert two penalties within ten minutes after kick off to reclaim the lead to 13-10.
However, a tactically skilled Ikeys adapted to the pressure and changed score line to 13-17 in no time by touching down another five point try which was successfully converted to retain the lead once more.
More so, the unpredictability of the game was just nerve wrecking as UJ fans cheered, uncertain if the team would fight back against a relentless Ikeys.
On the other hand, hope seemed to have been lost for UJ as the clock paced furiously to end the game. Above it all, UJ rose to fight, scoring a decisive try that altered the score line for the last time.
Moreover, the last minutes of the game were excruciatingly intense as the score line stood at 18-17 in favour of UJ. At that stage, the game could have gone either way, but, a defensively sound UJ fought off the determined Ikeys to the last minute.
Although Ikeys lost, their performance throughout the game was outstanding.
“The boys tried their best; we tried to get the win. But in the end the ball bounces both ways,” said an Ikeys Player, Wayrin Losper.
On the other Hand, a victorious UJ team acknowledged the intensity of the tight game.
“It was a tight game for both teams. I think the boys pulled through. I don’t think we expected what Ikeys brought today. But we played together as a team and capitalised on their (Ikeys) mistakes,” said a UJ player, Cyprian Nkomo.
Now, UJ are set to face North West University (FNB NWU) in an away Semi-final match on the 2nd of April 2018.
(Contact Kupakwashe Kambasha: Kayesco6@gmail.com)
All images courtesy to Kupakwashe Kambasha.