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The 2020 Varsity Cup is underway for both Maties and Shimlas, and their first meeting at the Danie Craven Stadium was a cracker. The supporters pulled through, the music was blasting, fireworks set the night on fire and the defending champions left it all on the field. A victory is never bitter, but Maties’ 67-16 trouncing of a lacklustre University of the Free State (UFS) team will be especially sweet. The Maroon Machine secured five points and the top spot on this year’s log, their points difference being significantly larger than the second placed Wits.

Maties were on the board very early when captain Ben-Jason Dixon (5) powered over the line in the third minute. Fullback Adriaan van der Bank (15) turned five points into seven and set a trend for the rest of the match, missing only one out of the seven conversions he took charge of.

A leaky Shimlas defence and Maties’ well-established brand of aggressive rugby ensured that the men from Stellenbosch had the momentum on their side, with Munier Hartzenberg (14), David Brits (13), HJ Luus (2), and Mike Mavovana (11) registering their names on the scoresheet before halftime. The nippy number 11 had an especially glamorous moment when some quick thinking from Maties scrumhalf, Remu Malan, set him up nicely to outmanoeuvre and outpace his opponents and carry the ball comfortably over the try line. By the time referee Ruan Meiring blew his whistle for the break, Maties were looking comfortable at 37-0.

Initially, the second half looked no brighter for the men from the Free State. They were unstable during set pieces and the Maties pack of forwards applied constant pressure to the Shimlas scrum and lineout. This kept them on the backfoot and out of possession. Maties capitalised by scoring two more tries; one by Malan, the other by Brits. Dixon, however, left Maties a wounded side after picking up a yellow for a nasty tackle (his second of the game) and the door opened somewhat for Shimlas.

The men in blue had a few brief moments of joy under the high ball, but poor handling and a lack of attacking coordination kept them from threatening the Maties goal line. Their moment, however, came halfway through the second half, when a lovely controlled chip kick from outside centre JP Duvenhage sent him over the line in a moment of individual brilliance. Shimlas’ Scrumhalf Rewan Kruger planted the ball between the uprights in the 68th minute, when a horrendous handling error from Maties gifted him the scoring opportunity. Duvenhage converted both tries, leaving the scoreboard at 53-16 in favour of the home side.

Suddenly, it seemed like the champions were fraying around the edges. The home supporters (a mighty crowd of over 15 000 people), however, kept their vocal vigil despite the dip in performance. The ongoing power collapse and a lack of lighting around the edges of the Danie Craven Stadium left many a supporter in a dark corner, but this did not keep them from breathing new life into their team. Maties flared up again and bundled over the try line two times in the last ten minutes to settle the match at 67-16.

Over the course of the 80 minutes, there were many players who delivered noteworthy performances. Adriaan van der Bank, however, was simply outstanding on the day. His quick feet took him past defenders and into pockets of space that seemed nearly impossible to reach. He linked up beautifully with both Hartzenberg and Mavovana, dictated play from the back, and made the Maties back three a force to be reckoned with. Van der Bank was substituted in the later stages of the match, having contributed immensely to his team’s comfortable position, and his replacement, Anton du Toit, seemed almost quiet in comparison. He was certainly our pick for man of the match and was awarded the FNB Player that Rocks award after all was said and done.

A determined CUT will be bringing the fight to Maties on 17 February in Round 3 of this year’s Varsity Cup. The Maroon Machine will again have the home advantage but will have to stay sharp if they are to keep to their winning ways.

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