A new SuperSport Rugby Challenge champion will be crowned in Outdshoorn next Sunday, when the highly entertaining provincial series, which graced rugby fields in various communities all over the country in the last three months, will reach a fitting finale at the Bridgton Sports Grounds.
Four teams are still in the running to claim the title, but by this weekend it will be down to two after the semi-finals, on Friday in Nelspruit and Saturday in Kimberley, when the iCOLLEGE Pumas host the Cell C Sharks XV, and Tafel Lager Griquas welcome Toyota Free State XV respectively.
The iCOLLEGE Pumas are the only undefeated side after 64 games in the competition, while the other three semi-finalists all are from the Central Section of the competition, proving how competitive that pool was this year.
The men from Mpumalanga also topped the competition statistics – their 55 tries and 408 points were the leading marks after the pool phase, while Chris Smith (flyhalf) also dominated the player stats as the only player to pass 100 individual points scored.
Confidence will be high in Nelspruit on Friday night, when they host the Cell C Sharks XV, but to underestimate the KwaZulu-Natalians will be at their own peril. Coaches Ricardo Loubscher and Paul Anthony have managed to produce a battle-hardened team every weekend and with the backline firing serious shots, the Mbombela Stadium faithful could be in for a real treat.
Cell C Sharks XV flyhalf Garth April and midfield maestro Jeremy Ward are in very good form and if their pack can provide good front-foot ball, the duo can create chaos. The iCOLLEGE Pumas pack however have not taken a step backward yet, and they loom large on the road to Oudtshoorn.
Close to 600 tries have been scored so far in the competition and 47 of those came from Tafel Lager Griquas. They have played highly entertaining rugby and the big challenge for Peter Engeldow’s side will be to combine the pressure game needed in their semi-final, to the adventurous style they have displayed this year.
They faced the Toyota Free State XV twice already in pool play. On 13 May, the Bloemfonteiners won 32-31 in Rustenburg, where they raced away to a big lead before the men Kimberley side fought back.
The second match, Tafel Lager Griquas won 27-19 in Bloemfontein, with George Whitehead (fylhalf) kicking five penalties in the process. The men from the Northern Cape will have the momentum this weekend, following their flowing win over the Boland Cavaliers in the quarter-final, but the Toyota Free State XV showed massive grit and determination in dismantling DHL Western Province in Cape Town last Sunday.
The Free Staters earned their place in the semi-finals the hard way and will be determined not to undermine last weekend’s brave effort. Their midfield, in particular, will be instrumental in their efforts to go all the way, with former Junior Bok, Benhard Janse van Rensburg, proving a handful with his contributions and decision-making.
The SuperSport Rugby Challenge semi-finals are:
Friday 6 July:
iCOLLEGE Pumas v Cell C Sharks XV
Venue: Mbombela Stadium, Nelspruit
Referee: AJ Jacobs
Saturday 7 July:
Tafel Lager Griquas v Toyota Free State XV
Venue: Tafel Lager Park, Kimberley
Referee: Cwengile Jadezweni