Varsity sport has revolutionised the sporting landscape in South Africa and one sport in particular appreciative of the opportunity is hockey. Tonight is the Varsity Hockey final at the UJ Stadium between Gauteng super rivals University of Johannesburg and University of Pretoria. UJ are the defending mens champions after they beat Maties in a thrilling final two years ago. In that final, also at UJ stadium, UJ trailed 2-0 before goals by Gerald Mpopo and Matt le Sousa levelled the game. UJ sealed the showdowns with goals by Clinton Panther and Taylor Dart.
As we prepare for tonight’s final lets have a look at the way the teams got there.
University of Johannesburg
UJ started off by hosting the opening weekend and in a repeat of the 2014 final took on Maties in a tough game. Although they trailed in the game, a scenario they have experienced too often in this years tournament, they fought back through the inspired Ryan Crowe to win 5-3. A slightly more routine 4-2 win over Pukke followed with Crowe again on the scoresheet before a nail-biting 2-1 win against UCT meant the defending champions were undefeated on 9 points ahead of what should be a straight forward game against Kosvies.
It was anything but straight forward as the Kosvies fought back from 1-0 up and led with just three minutes remaining before Amkelwa Letuka, whose twin brother plays for Tuks, scored in the last minute to take the game to showdowns. Gareth Heyns led the team with the match winning showdown. UJ had 12 points from four games and were on the verge of semi-final qualification, without playing convincing hockey.
That convincing hockey did show in the Gauteng derby against noisy neighbours Wits. Gareth Heyns hit a penalty corner hat-trick as the team marched to an 8-2 lead. The end result would be 8-4 but the UJ machine was beginning to click ahead of another Gauteng derby against Tuks. The match was an even tussle for the first two quarters but once again the fitness of the UJ men shone as they saw it out with some comfort to win 4-2 and secure top spot of the league stage with a game to spare. Garreth Ewing, also the SA Under 21 coach, would have been happy with the clinical way his team eliminated the Madibaz with an 8-2 win and another Gareth Heyns hat-trick.
And so to that incredible semi-final where they came up against an inspired Wits side, coached by former SA player Ricky West, and found themselves 4-0 down with just ten minutes remaining. What ensued was one of the greatest comebacks in South African sport history. A Brynn Cleak hat-trick (one goal during the PowerPlay doubles) and a last minute goal by Gareth Heyns took the game to showdowns. In the showdowns the incredible Matthew Martins kept out Wits and UJ progressed with a 3-1 win. What a game!
University of Pretoria
Guy Elliot’s Tuks side were not one of the favourites coming in to the tournament, but an impressive opening weekend saw the Pretoria side pick up four wins from four games and sit atop the table. A comfortable Grant Glutz inspired victory against Kosvies was followed up by a resolute defensive display against UCT in a 2-0. Tuks were properly tested, however, in their third game when Pukke led 2-0 early on. Richard Pautz was the catalyst as his brace proved to be match winning for Tuks who then finished the weekend with another brace from Pautz virtually securing their semi-final berth.
Down in the Cape the Pretoria side wobbled slightly getting a hiding in a 6-1 defeat to the home side Maties, this was followed by a 4-2 defeat to their Gauteng rivals UJ. Both games were played without SA Striker Pautz who was carrying an injury and his absence was strongly felt. With semi-final status secured it left them with a need for a morale boosting and momentum swinging victory against Wits in the final league game.
The Tuks vs. Wits game produced what was arguably the game of the tournament. Grant Glutz scored via a deflected penalty corner to lead 1-0, before the sensational Brandon James leveled for Wits. Glutz and James both scored in the second quarter again to leave it 2-2 at half time. Tuks gained the lead for the third time when Onke Letuka, the other twin, layed off for fit again Pautz to score. Letuka made it 4-2 and the result looked safe in the third quarter, however Wits had other ideas. Brandon James this time turned provider as Stuart Brown pulled one back and Brandon James (Who Jabu once coached at Provincial Hockey!) was unstoppable set Brown up for his second and parity in the match. With all the momentum going Wits way before great work allowed Glutz his hat-trick and match winning goal from a penalty corner.
So on to the Semi-Final where Tuks would have to face the free scoring Maties again and once again on their own turf. Maties who had the impressive SA duo Keenan Horne and Daniel Bell could not breach a defense led superbly by Estiaan Kriek and Kewan Harries. Kriek even saved a penalty flick to produce one of the best keeping performances of the tournament and thanks to a Stephan Cant strike the match ended in the all too uncommon score of 1-0. Tuks had caused the shock of the tournament and will aim to do it again tonight.
So are you backing #UJAllTheWay or #TukofNiks. Whoever it is remember to #ShowYourColours and follow the game live on Supersport 7 at 18:45