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NWU Eagles soar to the top by defeating UCT Ikeys to claim Varsity Cup title

NWU Eagles soar to the top by defeating UCT Ikeys to claim Varsity Cup title
NWU Eagles celebrate after winning the FNB Varsity Cup final against UCT Ikeys at Fanie du Toit Sports Ground on 17 April 2023 in Potchefstroom, South Africa. (Photo: Christiaan Kotze / Gallo Images)

North-West University’s powerful forward pack — led by hooker Vernon Paulo — helped the home side overcome the University of Cape Town 27-25 on Monday evening.

The North-West University (NWU) Eagles were physically dominant throughout their 80-minute home final against the University of Cape Town (UCT) in Potchefstroom on Monday evening to claim their first Varsity Cup title since 2016 with a 27-25 win. 

NWU overcame a second Western Cape side in as many weeks after beating Stellenbosch University 19-10 in the semifinal a week ago, also in Potchefstroom. 

The Eagles finished the round-robin phase of the Varsity Cup at the top of the log after suffering only a single defeat. 

In the final, despite the close scoreline, NWU Eagles were physically stronger throughout the contest, especially at the set pieces. 

After leading 20-9 at halftime, the Potchefstroom side stopped creating attacking opportunities and instead relied on their rock-solid defence to keep out the running Ikeys. 

Ikeys were their own worst enemy throughout, throwing away clear-cut opportunities several times. Overthrown final passes, kicking the ball dead 5m away from the tryline with no opposition players in sight and numerous knock-ons were issues UCT could not fix despite their exciting attacking play. 

Eagles hooker Vernon Paulo scored two rolling maul tries in the first half as the Eagles made their physical presence felt.  

NWU proved they have the ability to play quickly as fullback Tino Swanepoel also dotted down in the opening 40 minutes. 

FNB NWU Eagles celebrate as the referee blows the final whistle to confirm their 2023 Varsity Cup title. (Photo: Christiaan Kotze / Gallo Images)

Tino Santino Swanepoel of NWU Eagles scores during the Varsity Cup final against UCT Ikeys at Fanie du Toit Sports Ground in Potchefstroom. (Photo: Christiaan Kotze / Gallo Images) 

New lease of life 

UCT started the second half with a new lease of life and after a series of phase play that included interplay between forwards and backs, scored a point of origin try — worth seven points — through lock Reynhardt Crous. 

The try came only three minutes into the second half and meant that NWU only had a two-point advantage as the Ikeys kept pushing to take the lead by running the ball from everywhere on the field. 

UCT kept the pressure on the NWU tryline for close to 10 minutes after scoring, but without finding the key to unlock the Eagles’ defence. 

Instead, NWU orchestrated a beautiful counter-attack which ended with flyhalf Zinedine Robinson playing an excellent cross-field kick which fullback Swanepoel gathered elegantly before dotting down in the corner. The try restored NWU’s nine-point lead. 

Despite that moment of brilliance by the Eagles, it was all UCT and their electric, incessant attack in the second half. 

Their final ball let them down, however, as they squandered several good attacking positions within 5m of the tryline after extended pressure on the NWU tryline. 

The brick wall of the Eagles’ defence was eventually breached when replacement flank Jac van der Walt leapt over from close range after another five-minute period of pressure. 

Van der Walt’s try took the score to 27-25 with 10 minutes left to play. And with the clock ticking down, it was the monstrous NWU defence that proved stronger than the slick UCT attack as a massive hit led to a counter-ruck and the home side were awarded a penalty with the hooter blaring in the background. 

Scores of fans descended on the Fanie du Toit Sports Ground before the penalty was kicked into touch. After the formalities of ensuring the ball was out of play, the North-West University players and supporters shed celebratory tears. DM

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