It’s been a rough couple of seasons for the UCT Ikeys, but they are back and just one step away from bagging their third FNB Varsity Cup title. UCT will first have to get past the Tukkies tonight in the FNB Varsity Cup final.

It could be their first since one incredible evening in Potchefstroom back in 2014. A final that will be remembered as one of the biggest botches in Rugby history.

An implausible victory.

The Northwest University found themselves on the verge of a maiden Varsity Cup title in their first appearance in the final since losing to the Maties 11-6 in 2009. Leading the Ikeys 33-15 with seven minutes left on the clock, Pukke were all but assured victory. Right?

Well, wrong. Ikeys scored twice in the space of five minutes. 33-28, 30 seconds on the clock. Enough time for one more attack.

And attack they did, throwing everything at the Pukke defence. But a knock-on with a second left on the clock saw Pukke poised to lift the trophy.

For some reason, instead of thumping the ball in touch, they ran the ball. Strange. Even more bizarre is the fact that Pukke fly-half, Adriaan Engelbrecht, attempted a drop-goal. The game was over. Time was up. They were in the lead. They had the ball!

The attempt at two points (penalties and drop-goals were only worth two points in the 2014 edition of the Varsity Cup) was subsequently charged down, which gave UCT one more chance to attack.

With a bit of magic and probably a whole lot of luck, Nathan Nel scored under the posts to leave the Fanie du Toit Sports Ground in Potchefstroom stunned, silent in disbelief. The UCT fan park back in Cape Town almost losing its roof.

Watch: Relive the final six minutes of this bonkers final.

Falling from grace.

Unfortunately, those type of moments for Ikeys fans were few and far between in the seasons that followed. Ikeys lost in the semifinals in 2015. In 2016, they couldn’t bag a single win. As a result, they ended that campaign in 8th place, on the verge of being relegated to the Varsity Shield competition.

2017 saw them again finish 8th, with just CUT Ixias below them after they failed to register a single win.

Ikeys did manage a 6th and 5th place finish in 2018 and ‘19 respectively, which was a bit of an improvement. but still, a lot left to be desired.

Poised for victory.

The forced gap year in 2020 seemed to have helped get the Ikeys back on the right path.

UCT ended this season’s round-robin stage atop the table for the first time since the inaugural tournament in 2008. They head into the final on the back of an impressive unbeaten run, recording comprehensive victories along the way. 22-40 vs Wits, 5-59 vs Shimlas, 76-5 vs CUT and 58-55 vs UWC.

The Ikeys will face tough opposition tonight, going up against the UP-Tuks at the Tuks stadium. They Kick-off at 19:00.

Rugby and technology will merge on Friday, that’s thanks to a partnership between the FNB Varsity Cup and Sportable. The latter working alongside Gilbert for the past five years to perfect the world’s first smart rugby ball.

The technology has managed to make its way onto the field in the past couple of years, enjoying trials successfully in England. The England national team, Leicester Tigers and Bath were the first to give the ball a go in training. As a result, it could move to tests in real match situations. Gilbert had the ball feature at a sevens type Rugby union tournament in the UK called Rugby X.

In the five years it has spent in development, it has been exposed to stringent testing. Gilbert’s engineers have been working around the clock to perfect the tech. A whole lot of effort, sweat and tears have gone into making sure that the tech inside the ball returns accurate data and doesn’t affect how the ball behaves on the field or in the air.

Watch: The Smart Ball put through the wringer.

Cutting edge competition.

The FNB Varsity Cup has always been at the forefront of innovation, acting as the so-called guinea pigs of countless law trials. This includes double referees, different try values and the Power Play rule in 2018, where a team could remove two backline players for three minutes.

An African first.

Friday’s playoff matches will see the Gilbert x Sportable Smart Ball used in Africa for the first time.

Fans can expect insightful statistics throughout SuperSport’s live broadcasts as well as awesome in-game graphics on the FNB Varsity Cup’s social media platforms.

With existing data capture technologies have hit their ceiling, ball tracking data creates a digital impression of the most meaningful on-field events. This digital blueprint is far more complex than the event data currently produced for rugby.

“We are incredibly excited about the opportunity to work with Varsity Cup and SuperSport to bring our solutions to fans and coaches in South Africa,” says Dugald Macdonald, Sportable founder and CEO. “Varsity Cup’s reputation for pioneering new developments in the game is second to none, so we view the introduction of the Smart Ball on Friday as just the start of a long, exciting partnership.”

What the tech does.

The device inside the Gilbert x Sportable Smart Ball tracks the following key events during a rugby match:

• Kicks in play
• Goal kicks
• Restart kicks
• Lineouts
• Passes
• Possession
• Territory
• Ruck speed

In future competitions, the Gilbert x Sportable Smart Ball will instantly detect and alert referees to forward passes.
The data metrics include:

• Distance
• Speed
• Trajectory
• Hang-time
• Spin rate
• Spiral efficiency
• Reload time (time from catching to passing)
• Start/end time
• Start/end coordinates
• Angle to posts
• Kick difficulty and success

Also read: Eric Tinkler returns to the Blue and Gold Army.