It’s two weeks to go to the kick-off of the 2019 Varsity Football season, and no better time than for a #ThrowbackThursday – and remind you how the 2018 tournament unfolded.
ORANGE ARMY SET THE PACE
UP-Tuks started the tournament as defending champions, having extended their record to three titles under first-year head coach Tlisane Motaung in 2017.
As it happened, the Stripe Generation immediately found themselves on the backfoot, as Pretoria neighbours TUT pegged them back 2-1 on the opening night of action. As significant as that result was, UJ made the biggest impression early on.
UJ clobbered UL 7-1 in Round 1, then drew 1-1 with UP-Tuks before wins against Wits (2-1) and TUT (1-0) in Rounds 3 and 4 marked Mokete Mogaila out as a star in the making and the Orange Army as the team to beat.
That happened for the first time in Round 7, when NWU got the better of them (1-0) in Mafikeng to halt their momentum – decisively it proved for Mandla Zwane’s charges.
UP-TUKS, TUT STAKE THEIR CLAIM
At the same time, UP-Tuks and TUT were matching the UJ, stride for stride. Despite their initial setback, UP-Tuks didn’t lose again in the round robin phase [and Giovanni Idi, their golden gloveman only conceded three times] while TUT’s only loss was the clash against UJ.
For their troubles, the three main teams carried identical records into the playoffs – won 4, drew 2 and lost 1 for 14 total points – but UJ edged UP-Tuks having scored more goals, while TUT had a worse goal difference to the pair.
WITS SNEAK THROUGH
Ironically, the semi-finals ended up being two derbies – UP-Tuks against TUT in Pretoria and UJ hosting their Johannesburg rivals Wits. Ex-pro-come-first-year coach Mark Haskins guided his team to fourth on the table with a 4-1-2 record for 13 points (just ahead of NWU).
UWC (5 points), who had three goal scorers in the top 10 list finished well of the pace alongside debutants UKZN (5 points) and UL (1 point) who had a porous defence, conceding seven goals on two occasions.
In the semi-finals themselves, TUT got the better of UP-Tuks (1-0) having got used to being the away team throughout the campaign following their sanction for fan disruptions at the end of the 2017 Final. UJ, meanwhile, couldn’t make their home ground advantage count either and then faltered in the penalty shootouts allowing Wits ‘keeper Matthew Carelse to make a name for himself.
RED IS THE COLOUR
That set up a final between TUT (their fourth in a row) and Wits (first-timers), which the Johannesburgers hosted. Again, that proved to not be enough. Wits captain Tshireletso Motsogi’s opener was cancelled out by Godfrey Mahlale (who would go on to claim the Player of the Tournament award and share the Golden Boot with the aforementioned Mogaila). Then – with Carelse warming to the idea of being the real deal in a shootout again – Melusi Vilakazi silenced the home fans with a last-minute moment of brilliance and TUT won 2-1. In the process, their captain Elliot Seema and coach Bushy Moloi claimed second titles before heading off to the professional ranks.
Wits, meanwhile, won’t even have the chance to go again. They – along with UL – underachieved at the USSA National Championships, ceding their Varsity Football 2019 places to CUT and UFS Kovsies.
TUT, on the hand, can look back on a job well done when the odds weren’t in their favour.