Fort Hare scrumhalf Phola Mbonja

The University of Fort Hare’s Baby Blues stand on the cusp of glory on the eve of the grand finale of this season’s women’s FNB Varsity Cup.

The Alice students will be hell-bent on making history by lifting the trophy for the very first time when they tackle defending champions Maties in Pretoria on Friday afternoon.

Coach Ntyatyambo Mkhafu said the team would represent every player – past and present – who had contributed to Fort Hare’s rise in South African rugby.

“We are a big family; the players who left us and the ones who are here now,” he said.

“When we first went to the USSAs, we were ranked 17th. Now we are number two or three in South Africa.

He said that it had been “those original players” who had laid the foundation for where they were now.

“I really appreciate each and every one I have worked with.”

Fort Hare scrumhalf Phola Mbonja

Fort Hare scrumhalf Phola Mbonja is expected to prove a handful for the Maties’ defence at the base of the scrum. Photo: Full Stop Communications

The clash for the crown promises to be a humdinger on the neutral turf of Tuks, where the men’s FNB Varsity Shield final will be played later in the day.

There is no question that Fort Hare and Maties have been the form teams of the competition, as was evident in their respective semifinals last week.

The Baby Blues were sublime in bulldozing Tuks 47-12 while the Stellenbosch ladies were equally dominant in brushing aside UWC 48-5.

Yet, as impressive as Fort Hare were in the playoff, Mkhafu will know that the result counts for nothing on Friday.

“It will be a very, very tough match. It won’t be easy for either side,” he said.

“It’s almost like starting the tournament from scratch. We just have to stick to our plans.”

The victory against Tuks was very much about implementing those plans. Using the nippiness of scrumhalf Phola Mbonja to catch their opponents off guard worked a treat, giving Fort Hare constant front-foot ball.

The Baby Blues also ensured that they were always in the “right areas” to put points on the board, Mkhafu explained.

“Even if we made mistakes, they didn’t come back to haunt us.”

The Tuks outcome had been especially pleasing for the coach as UFH had found themselves on the wrong end of the result on numerous occasions against the Pretoria students.

Racking up a healthy tally against them went a long way in avenging those defeats, he said.

Maties defeated Fort Hare 7-33 in last year’s semifinal, but Friday’s match will be a different kettle of fish.

Playing at altitude would be a huge factor for both teams, but Mkhafu hoped that the Western Cape outfit might find it harder to adapt.

Maties will also run into Fort Hare skipper Sivuyiseko Makhomazi who will be motivated to sign off with a victory – and not just any victory – in her last Varsity Cup match.

“It will be very emotional for her as she will want to leave something behind for the younger ladies,” Mkhafu said.

“Her performances are usually great, but we may even see her giving us an even better one in the final.”