Friday, 22 April 2022

Fort Hare claim first FNB Varsity Shield title

FINAL: The dramatic final was played in Alice. FINAL: The dramatic final was played in Alice. Photo credit: ASEM Engage

The FNB UFH Blues beat FNB CPUT 28-27 in the FNB Varsity Shield final in Alice on Thursday.

It’s been an emotional rollercoaster of a season for the Blues. Last month, the players and coaches were rocked by the death of their director of rugby, Elliot Fana. And yet, they managed to pick themselves up and finish the league phase at the top of the standings.

The players appeared nervous in the lead-up to the final yet managed to maintain their composure against a fiercely competitive FNB CPUT outfit, who had won the previous two titles. FNB CPUT held their own at the scrums and generated significant momentum from their maul. Fort Hare still managed to launch from their set piece, though, and a powerful drive by No 8 Yamkela Mzozyana culminated in a try for lock Ayabulela Xhosana.

FNB CPUT continued to attack via their powerful maul and forced yet another infringement by the hosts. Xhosana was shown a yellow card and Fort Hare finished the stanza with 14 men. The defending champions would not be denied for long, though. Scrumhalf Hugan Engelbrecht touched down after half-time, while yet another maul resulted in a try for No 8 Roland van der Heever.

Flyhalf Feghon-Leigh Snyders converted to give FNB CPUT a 22-16 lead as the game moved into the final quarter. Fort Hare responded immediately, with Xhosana grabbing a second try, but flyhalf Keith Chiwara’s missed conversion left the hosts trailing by a single point.

While Fort Hare tired, FNB CPUT appeared to grow stronger as the final whistle approached. Fullback Caine Stadler finished after an impressive build-up by the visitors, and suddenly the game – and the trophy – was FNB CPUT’s to lose. But there was more drama to come. Snyders overcooked a clearing kick and the players went back for a scrum deep in FNB CPUT territory.

The visitors defended for all they were worth but made a couple of mistakes that allowed the Blues one final shot at glory. In the end, it was the Fort Hare scrum that had the decisive say. After forcing a couple of penalties, the hosts called for yet another set piece. When FNB CPUT brought that scrum down, the referee raced towards the posts to award a penalty try – and Fort Hare the title.

The result marks the Blues’ eighth consecutive win of the season.

FNB UFH Blues 28 (13) – Tries: Ayabulela Xhosana (2), penalty try. Conversion: Keith Chiwara. Penalties: Chiwara (3).

FNB CPUT 27 (8) – Tries: Matthew Coenraad, Hugan Engelbrecht, Roland van der Heever, Caine Stadler. Conversions: Feghon-Leigh Snyders (2). Penalty: Snyders.

FNB Player That Rocks: Yamkela Mzozoyana (FNB UFH Blues)