A look at the standings of the SuperSport Rugby Challenge after the first four rounds makes it abundantly clear that rugby in the country districts is on a (probably unstoppable) decline.
Of the non-franchise unions only the two Currie Cup Premier Division sides, the Pumas and Griquas, and Boland, probably the union with the liveliest and biggest club system in the country, have been competitive to date.
Traditionally strong sides from the Currie Cup First Division that have over many years been competitive in the Vodacom Cup and in the Currie Cup First Division, particularly the Valke, SWD Eagles, Griffons and the Leopards in particular, are now languishing in their SuperSport Rugby Challenge sections.
Between them they have won only two of their combined 13 matches. Two of those wins came this weekend against the two sides from neighbouring Namibia, the Welwitschias and the Zimbabwe Academy. They have both been outclassed in their combined seven matches to date with not a single win and a negative points difference of 188 points.
There is also a warning light for the Sharks and especially the Blue Bulls, who have both lost two of their four matches to date that possibly points to a lack of depth in the union – although the Bulls have lost to the two top non-franchise Currie Cup sides, the Pumas and Griquas.
SA Rugby Communications report that there are only three of the 16 teams that remain unbeaten.
The report goes on to say that defending SuperSport Rugby Challenge champions, the Pumas, former champions, Western Province and runners up in 2017 and 2018, Griquas, all remain on track to repeat their previous heroics after good wins this weekend.
The three heavyweights in this exciting tournament, which saw an average of 70 tries per weekend in the first month, are the only undefeated teams left after four rounds of action and look set to again be involved in the play-offs next month.
The Pumas (beat the Golden Lions XV 51-33 in Johannesburg) and Griquas (beat the Blue Bulls 38-17 in Kimberley, remain the top teams in the North Section, while Western Province (beat the Zimbabwe Academy 33-13 in Cape Town) are opening up a huge lead in the South Section.
The Sunday Rugby Festival, held at Impala Rugby Club in Rustenburg, again delivered two massively competitive matches, with the Griffons downing the Windhoek Draught Welwitschias by 34-24, and the Valke claiming a first win the competition by beating the Leopards 52-50. In this match, both Edmund Rheeder and Eugene Hare scored hat-tricks for the North West team.
Griquas top the log with a full house of 20 points, but only edge the Pumas (20 log points) due to a better points’ difference. The Kimberley side (+109) are sitting pretty, but the defending champs (+43) will push hard to overhaul them.
They play each other next week in what will be a repeat of last year’s final and could end up determining which team take the top spot on the log.
The Pumas raced away to a 27-7 lead at halftime against their hosts at Ellis Park, and never looked back, while in Kimberley, the home side outscored their visitors from Pretoria by five tries to two at Park.
The Golden Lions XV (16 log points) are still in touch, but the Blue Bulls (10) and Griffons (10) will need a massive effort if they want to remain contenders for the top spot.
It looks like the Leopards, Valke and Windhoek Draught Welwitschias will be bridesmaids again, but they can still play a huge role in the tournament by tripping up one of the front runners.
Western Province (20 log points) look unstoppable as they outplayed Zimbabwe Academy to claim a fourth full house of log points, but Boland (15 log points) clearly have their own ambitions this year.
The Cavaliers had their flags lowered for the first time in Durban on Friday evening when the
Sharks XV (11 log points) kicked a penalty goal after the hooter to win this exciting encounter by 29-28.
The Toyota Free State Cheetahs XV (15 log points) have the advantage of players coming back into the squad after their Guinness PRO14 campaign and they showed no mercy to SWD in Bloemfontein on Saturday, beating them 64-17. Jasper Wiese, one of those who played in the European showpiece earlier in the season, bagged three tries in the romp.
EP Elephants and Border will be the spoilers for the remainder of the tournament and will be out to trip up those ahead of them on the log. They clashed in Port Elizabeth earlier this afternoon and the home side came up tops 52-3.
Zimbabwe Academy remain the only winless and prop up the log in the South.
The SuperSport Rugby Challenge log can be viewed on https://www.springboks.rugby/tournaments/league?lid=9
Results and scorers (click on score for match report) –
Griquas – Tries: Ederies Arendse (2), AJ le Roux, André Swarts, Sias Koen. Conversions: George Whitehead (5). Penalty goal: Whitehead.
Blue Bulls – Tries: Travis Ismaiel, JT Jackson. Conversions: Fiela Boshoff (2). Penalty goal: Jackson.
Golden Lions XV – Tries: Reuben Schoeman, Sylvian Mahuza, Prince Nkabinde, Jan-Louis la Grange, Pieter Jansen. Conversions: Dillon Smit, Mahuza (2), Ruan Combrinck
Pumas – Tries: Neil Maritz (2), Alwayno Visagie (2), Phumzile Maqondwana, Chris Smith. Conversions: Smith (4). Penalty goals: Smith (2).
Griffons – Tries: Ezrick Alexander, Domenic Smit, Jean Pretorius, Niell Stannard, Duan Pretorius. Conversions: Jaywinn Juries (3). Penalty goal: Danrich Visagie.
Welwitschias – Tries: Johannes Tromp, AJ de Klerk, Louis van der Westhuizen. Conversions: Cliven Loubser (3). Penalty goal: Loubser.
Leopards – Tries: Eugene Hare (3), Edmund Rheeder (3), Schalk Hugo, André Fouche. Conversions: Hugo (5).
Valke – Tries: Rodney Damons (2), Coert Cronje, Friedle Olivier, Andréw van Wyk (2), Errol Jaggers. Conversions: Anrich Richter (4), André du Plessis (3). Penalty goal: Richter.
Western Province – Tries: Godlen Masimla (2), Chad Solomon, Johan du Toit, Edwill van Der Merwe. Conversions: Abner van Reenen (4).
Zimbabwe Academy – Try: Jafnos Chiwanza. Conversion: Brendon Mandivenga. Penalty goals: Mandivenga (2).
Free State Cheetahs XV – Tries: Jasper Wiese (3), Adriaan Carelse, Boan Venter, Darren Adonis, Jamba Ulengo, Keanen Murray, Niell Jordaan, Carel Coetzee. Conversions: Ernst Stapelberg (6), Lubabalo Dobela.
SWD Eagles – Tries: Leighton Eksteen, Shario Rosenkrantz. Conversions: Divan Nel (2). Penalty goal: Nel.
Sharks XV 29 (19), Boland 28 (15)
Sharks XV – Tries: Penalty Try, Sicelo Tole, Lwazi Mvovo, Rhyno Smith. Conversions: Smith (2). Penalty goal: Smith.
Boland – Tries: Shilton van Wyk, Valentino Wellman, Shirwin Cupido. Conversions: Garrick Mattheus (2). Penalty goals: Mattheus (3).
EP Elephants – Tries: Tries: Rynhard van Wyk, Zingisa April (2), Ntabeni Dukisa, Athenkosi Mayinye, Mikey Botha (2), Diego Williams. Conversions: Ntabeni Dukisa (6).
Border – Penalty goal: Aphiwe Stimele.
Top points’ scorers
52: JT Jackson (Blue Bulls), Abner van Reenen (Western Province)
46: George Whitehead (Griquas)
44: Ernst Stapelberg (Toyota Free State Cheetahs XV)
42: Chris Smith (Pumas), Rhyno Smith (Sharks XV)
6: Jamba Ulengo (Toyota Free State XV)
5: Marquit September (SWD Eagles), Edwill van der Merwe (Western Province), Jo-Hanko de Villiers (Golden Lions XV)
Issued by SA Rugby Communications