The unforgiving nature of the new-look SSG Gold Cup means that a number of top clubs enter Saturday’s second round fighting to stay alive in SA Rugby’s flagship national championship for non-university clubs.
This follows a dramatic opening weekend, characterised by capacity crowds, free-flowing rugby and a number of surprise results from across the country.
In Pool A, a 10,000-strong crowd at Boland Park in Worcester were treated to an 81-point thriller as visitors Platinum Rhinos held out for a 41-40 win over hosts Worcester Villagers, at 136 years the oldest team in this year’s tournament.
And 400km away in George, 2015 Gold Cup champions Durbell made it two away wins in the group when they showed their championship intent with a 35-7 dismantling of a very good Progress George team spurred on by 6,000 fanatical supporters at Rosemoor Stadium.
Saturday sees Progress at home again, this time against Villagers, with both teams knowing that a second defeat will almost certainly eliminate them from the competition. In the other match, Durbell host to Rhinos in Cape Town, with both sides having their sights set on topping the log and possibly avoiding 2017 finalists College Rovers in the quarter-finals.
Not that Rovers’ advance to the playoffs is any foregone conclusion. On the back of an opening 36-9 home win over wildcards East Rand United who are trying to bring Rovers' Brian Shabangu to the ground (Picture Steve Haag, Gallo Images) the Durbanites must travel to Uitenhage to face EP champions Gardens at the historic Derrick Ferreira Stadium in Rosemore.
Gardens will be looking to bounce back from a 19-14 home defeat to Secunda in round one and, like Progress and Villagers, will need a victory over the 2017 Gold Cup finalists to keep their hopes alive of advancing from Pool B.
In the other pool match, East Rand United will also need to be in do-or-die mode when they host Secunda at the ‘Graveyard’, the Reigerpark Sports Ground in Ekurhuleni.
In Pool C, there is more backs-to-the-wall action at the Sivos Stadium in Kathu, where home side Sishen, who picked up an invaluable away bonus point in their 46-31 defeat in Pretoria to Naka Bulls, host Bloemfontein Police.
The Bobbies are coming off at 31-25 away defeat to Welkom and, with Naka Bulls looming in the final round — albeit at their Bobbies Park fortress — the Bloemfonteiners know they must grab points on the road this weekend to have playoff aspirations.
In the other Pool C match, Naka Bulls host Welkom in Pretoria, with both teams one victory away from likely qualification for the last eight.
In Pool D, arguably the match of the weekend sees 2014 and 2016 Gold Cup champions Rustenburg Impala, who in a repeat of the 2014 Gold Cup final overwhelmed Roodepoort 54-31, hosting high-flying Swallows who were surprise 17-13 victors over Springs on the East Rand last weekend.
The Border side have a close affinity with the players from Impala, with many of the latter’s players hailing from the Eastern Cape. A capacity crowd is on the cards, with many Swallows supporters from around the country taking to social media to express their commitment to travel to Rustenburg for the match.
In the pool’s other match, the hallowed turf of Emirates Airline Park hosts 2014 finalists RotoTank Roodepoort and KWV Springs in a Vodacom Super Rugby curtain-raiser that kicks off at 11h45. Both teams, like last week’s losing sides from the other three pools, must win to stand any chance of reaching the quarterfinals.
John Smit and sponsors
“Amateur club rugby is where rugby and communities are built from the ground up,” said Smit, the acting CEO of co-sponsor SSG Holdings and the face of this year’s tournament.
“The unsung heroes in these communities need to be given the opportunity to be celebrated and the Gold Cup is one of the ideal platforms to achieve this.
“The Gold Cup’s vision of building communities and providing opportunities is shared wholeheartedly by SSG Holdings, Blu Approved and M4Jam. We are proud to be associated with the grassroots game and we look forward to seeing the tournament grow from strength to strength.”
ROUND TWO FIXTURES —
16h00: Stiles Progress George vs Villagers Worcester (Rosemoor Stadium, George)
16h00: Durbanville-Bellville vs Northam Platinum Rhinos (Durbell Rugby Club, Cape Town)
15h30: Gardens vs College Rovers (Derrick Ferreira Stadium, Uitenhage)
16h00: East Rand United vs Secunda (Reiger Park Sports Ground, Ekurhuleni)
16h00: Naka Bulls vs Welkom (Naka Bulls RFC, Pretoria)
16h00: Sishen vs Bloemfontein Police (Sivos Stadium, Kathu)
11h45: Roodepoort vs Springs (Emirates Airline Park, Johannesburg)
16h00: Rustenburg Impala vs Swallows (Impala Rugby Club, Rustenburg)
Issued by SA Rugby Communications