The SuperSport Rugby Challenge return to more familiar venues on Saturday, with four of the six second round matches taking place at traditional stadiums.
It is only the matches between Tafel Lager Griquas and the Leopards at Diamantveld High School, and the Xerox Golden Lions against the iCOLLEGE Pumas at Wits University, that are a bit off the beaten track, but otherwise Loftus Versfeld, DHL Newlands, Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, the BCM Stadium and HT Pelatona Projects Stadium will all host encounters in this exciting provincial competition.
Even though some of the teams are at their regular hunting grounds, there will be no guarantees as most of the sides are still finding their rhythm and confidence, or, in the case of the SWD Eagles, Xerox Golden Lions and Toyota Free State XV, making their season debut in the competition.
SWD open their account with a tough encounter against the EP Elephants at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth in the South Section of the competition. The home side came up short against DHL Western Province last weekend, but showed enough in that defeat to worry the Eagles, who could still be a bit rusty.
DHL Western Province will be looking to keep their undefeated record in the tournament intact when they travel to East London to face the Border Bulldogs. The home side will be better prepared than last week and motivated in front of their home crowd, but DHL WP will have faith in their attack after they scored nine tries against the Elephants.
In Kimberley, Tafel Lager Griquas host the Leopards, who will be in much better shape as a number of their FNB Varsity Cup players will be returning into the starting line-up and will be looking at playing the game at a high tempo. The home side will not require a reminder of last year’s clash, when the Potch boys left smiling after a 38-35 win. Instrumental in that was the performance of Walt Steenkamp, who will again prove a handful at lock in this Central Section clash.
Steenkamp was outstanding in the recent FNB Varsity Cup and named overall Player of the Tournament for his performances in the FNB NWU-Pukke jersey. Now back in the green and red of the Leopards, which he has worn 32 times since 2015, the 2.03m and 120kg giant from Rustenburg will be keen to use this tournament as a platform to bigger things.
The other match in the Central Section is another derby of sorts, with the Toyota Free State XV travelling up the N1 to face the Down Touch Griffons in their back yard. It will certainly be a huge challenge, after the home side scored seven tries against the Leopards away from Welkom last weekend.
The two clashes in the North Section could not be more different. The Windhoek Draught Welwitschias will have a massive task to keep the Vodacom Blue Bulls in check, with the home side making their first appearance at Loftus Versfeld this year. Any team with the names Ulrich Beyers, JT Jackson, Ruben van Heerden, Tim Agaba and Edgar Marutlulle on their team sheet will be hard to beat.
The Wits clash could be déjà vu for iCOLLEGE Pumas flyhalf, Chris Smith. In his last visit to this venue, in FNB Maties colours, Smith played a blinder in a match that ended 30-30. The flyhalf kicked two late penalty goals for his team to put them in the lead, only for FNB Wits to score after the hooter to claim the draw.
Smith had a brilliant start to his provincial career in Nelspruit, scoring 21 points on debut last weekend, and will again be looking to play an instrumental role in his side’s performance against the Xerox Golden Lions XV.
The home side will be hoping for a strong start, as the North Section already looks like a very competitive one where every point on the log and scoreboard could make the difference in reaching the play-offs.
New Xerox Golden Lions XV coach, the former provincial flyhalf Herkie Kruger, will only know too well what Smith can do and will certainly look at his forward pack to dominate and get the visiting backs on their back foot.
Kruger would be keen to see the ball move down his own backline to left winger Aphiwe Dyantyi, who is on the comeback trail following an injury in Vodacom Super Rugby. Dyanti was a standout for the Emirates Lions before a pectoral muscle injury broke his stride.
The SuperSport Rugby Challenge Round 2 fixtures are:
Saturday 28 April:
EP Elephants v SWD Eagles
Venue: Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth
Referee: Quinton Immelman
TV: SS 10 (18h00)
Vodacom Blue Bulls v Windhoek Draught Welwitschias
Venue: Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
Referee: Archie Sehlako
TV: SS 10 (19h45)
Border Bulldogs v DHL Western Province
Venue: BCM Stadium, East London
Referee: Paul Mente
Xerox Golden Lions XV v iCOLLEGE Pumas
Venue: Wits University, Johannesburg
Referee: Rasta Rasivhenge
Down Touch Griffons v Toyota Free State XV
Venue: HT Pelatona Projects Stadium, Welkom
Referee: Jaco Pretorius
Tafel Lager Griquas v Leopards
Venue: Diamantveld High School Fields
Referee: Ben Crouse
Byes: Boland Cavaliers (South), Hino Valke (North), Cell C Sharks XV (Central)