The FNB Maties were able to hold on in the dying seconds to defeat FNB UP-Tuks 23-22 in an epic top-of-the-log Varsity Cup encounter in Stellenbosch.
The fixture boasted a test-match atmosphere between the competition's two top sides so far this season in what was arguably a dress-rehearsal for the 2012 final.
The two steely defences were give a thorough examination for the first time this season and it was neck and neck with Tuks having the edge in the line-outs, while Maties had the Pretoria side under pressure at scrum time.
The quality from both sides in the match was out of the top door, while former Maties Varsity Cup players Juan de Jongh and De Kock Steenkamp watched proceedings from the sidelines with big-names Stormers teammates Jean de Villiers, Gio Aplon and Bryan Habana also in attendance.
The Maties were the first team on the scoreboard after wing Ryan Nell crossed the line untouched after he charged down a kick.
After an intense start to the match UP-Tuks managed to notch up their first points through the boot of Wesley Dunlop which made it 8-2 to the Maties.
Maties captain Helmut Lehmann was forced to temporarily leave the field for blood, not for the first time this season, and Tuks made the most of the Matie skipper's absence by setting up a rolling maul from an attacking line-out. Tighthead Grant Kemp forced his way over the line to give Tuks a 10-8 lead after Dunlop put the conversion between the sticks.
In the final moments of the first half Maties scrumhalf Donald Stevens landed an brilliant penalty from just over 40m out to make it 10-all at the break.
Two more penalties from Dunlop just after the break piled the pressure on Maties, but the home team were handed a lifeline when Tuks wing Deon Helberg was shown a yellow card for a high tackle.
Maties flyhalf André Kemp took control of the game a speared a kick into the corner to set up a set-piece from the resulting line-out which resulted in a try for lock Grant Hattingh to give Maties a 15-14 lead with 20 minutes left on the clock.
The home side lifted the tempo after taking the lead and were nothing short of superb for the next passage of play - driving Tuks backwards and replicating their line-out set-piece, with replacement prop Hein van der Merwe crashing over the tryline to take the lead up to 23-14.
With time running out Tuks through everything at Maties and camped in their 22 more than five minutes before flank Okkie Kruger fumbled the ball under pressure from a solid Maties defensive wall.
However, Clayton Blommetjies was rewarded for a fantastic performance with a try in the corner with just two minutes to play and Dunlop landed an immaculate conversion to make it a one-point game with one minute to play.
Tuks had one final crack at the Maties defence, but replacement Reniel Hugo swooped on a loose ball and booted it into touch to clinch a dramatic victory for Maties.
The fanatical home support might have given Maties just enough of a lift to be the difference between the two sides in the titanic battle but one gets the feeling that these two sides could meet again in the 2012 FNB Varsity Cup presented by Steinhoff International.
THE SCORERS :
FOR THE FNB MATIES:
Tries: Nell, Hattingh, Van der Merwe
Cons: Stevens, Kemp
FOR FNB UP-TUKS:
Tries: Kemp, Blommetjies
Cons: Dunlop 2
Pens: Dunlop 3
Maties: 15 André Smith, 14 Ryan Nell, 13 Wessel Coetzee, 12 Louis Jordaan, 11 Dean Hammand, 10 André Kemp, 9 Donald Stevens, 8 Tertius Daniller, 7 Helmut Lehmann (captain) , 6 Sam Mabombo, 5 Hugo Kloppers, 4 Grant Hattingh, 3 Os Hamman, 2 Rob Herring, 1 Alistair Vermaak.
Replacements: 16 Gareth Light, 17 Brummer Badenhorst, 18 Reniel Hugo, 19 JP Swanepoel, 20 Boela Abrahams, 21 Jarryd Buys, 22 Clearance Khumalo, 23 Hein van der Merwe.
UP-Tuks: 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Deon Helberg, 13 Jerome Pretorius, 12 Dabeon Draghoender, 11 Hayden Groepes, 10 Wesley Dunlop, 9 Lohan Jacobs, 8 Jono Ross (captain) , 7 Jacques Verwey, 6 Okkie Kruger, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Mike Williams, 3 Grant Kemp, 2 Jacques Momberg, 1 Sabelo Nhlapo.
Replacements: 16 Zane Botha, 17 Juan Schoeman, 18 Sthembiso Mlongo, 19 Lean Schwartz, 20 Clayton Stewart, 21 Willie du Plessis, 22 Riaan Britz, 23 Basil Short.
Referee: Jason Jaftha