THE FNB NMMU Madibaz registered what was arguably their most famous rugby victory when they held on in a tension-packed quarterfinal to defeat Pretoria University 13-7 at the NMMU Stadium last night, qualifying for the Varsity Cup semifinals for the first time.
However, the final standings could not have been much closer and there were some heart-stopping moments for fans when it was realised afterwards that three teams – the Madibaz, University of Johannesburg and Potchefstroom University – had ended on 21 points.
But the PE side joined UJ in the last four, edging out Pukke on a points difference. Although losing to Maties, Pukke put in a valiant effort to make the semis, fighting back from 24-0 down to lose 37-34 and finishing with a points difference of 15 compared with NMMU's 17.
Maties topped the log, while the bonus point Tukkies earned last night saw them finish in second place on 22 points. In Monday's semis, Tukkies will host UJ, while the Madibaz travel to Stellenbosch.
Fans poured in to the NMMU Stadium last night to watch the Madibaz pull off what amounted to a serious challenge, but the belief this team have in their ability and the work ethic they have created over the last few seasons pushed them to a fourth straight home victory.
The Madibaz led 7-0 at halftime and flyhalf Justin van Staden kicked three crucial second-half penalties to give them a handy 13-2 lead with 10 minutes remaining.
But Tukkies did not become the defending champions last year without showing some fighting qualities and they put the home side under immense pressure for the remainder of the match.
Immediately after Van Staden's final penalty, they earned a penalty and – from a 5m lineout – substitute forward Jaco Visagie forced his way over.
Centre Handre Pollard, who had earlier kicked a penalty, missed the conversion, but at 13-7, Tukkies' victory hopes were still alive and they pushed NMMU to the brink. It was only desperate defence by the Madibaz, something they have prided themselves on all season, that kept the visitors out and eventually the home side forced a turnover, earned a free kick and then took their time as the crowd happily chanted down the final 10 seconds to secure a victory they will cherish.
In the first half, Tukkies looked ominous at the start and had the Madibaz under pressure for the first 10 minutes. But they could find no way through and gradually NMMU gained parity to show they were up for the battle.
From a scrum about 35m out, No8 Timothy Agaba picked up the ball and burst through for a telling run which resulted in hooker Martin Ferreira romping over for NMMU to draw first blood.
Van Staden missed the conversion, but later put over a penalty to make it 7-0 at the break. Penalties and drop goals in the Varsity Cup are worth two points to encourage running rugby.
Van Staden did miss two penalties, but his boot proved important in the final analysis, while the spirit in the Madibaz camp was probably the most critical factor in their success.