Glasfit Pirates Rugby Club will be looking to take a big step towards qualifying for the 2014 Cell C Community Cup when they meet the Golden Lions’ top non-university club, Roodepoort, on Saturday in a much-anticipated Grand Challenge match at the Rand Leases Sports Grounds (kick-off 16h00).
Resurgent Pirates, who celebrate their 125th anniversary this year, have 14 points from their four matches and currently lie fourth on the log, six points behind in-form Varsity Cup side Wits and Roodepoort, who finished a creditable seventh in the inaugural Community Cup.
Greenside-based Pirates trail Raiders by a single point following their 33-26 victory over the Community Cup wild cards last weekend, to set up an intriguing match against their West Rand rivals, who, according to the tournament rules, must retain their number-one standing amongst the province’s open clubs if they are to qualify for 2014.
“The highest-placed open club on the log will go to Community Cup and with it being only a single round this year (the last matches take place on 10 July), it’s very important for us to come away from Roodepoort with a win if we are to have a chance,” said Pirates’ vice-chairman, Brad Guymer.
“Everyone at the club is very excited by the challenge of qualifying and we believe we have a coaching and playing squad this year that are dedicated and capable of doing it.”
Pirates’ last appearance on a national stage was during the 2009 Club Championships in Pretoria, where they reached the Cup quarter-finals, losing to eventual champions Hamiltons. But their greatest day came in 2001 when, also in the country’s capital, and under former Springbok player and assistant coach Dick Muir, they won the Club Champs, beating WP side Tygerberg 37-13 in the final.
With no guarantees that the 20 clubs that competed in the inaugural Community Cup will return again next year, and with only defending champions GAP Despatch assured of their place, the qualifying race is becoming more interesting by the week in a number of provinces.
The Blue Bulls’ Carlton League, shortened to just a single round of seven matches this season to allow for the exciting cross-border Predator league to kick off on 20 July, enters its final fortnight with Pretoria Police, Centurion and Oostelikes all in with a realistic shot of qualifying.
Centurion looked to have the inside lane after drawing with Varsity Cup champions Tuks and beating the Bobbies 27-23 in Round 4, only to suffer a 21-18 defeat at home to Oostelikes last weekend – a result which has opened the door for Oostelikes and Police, who hammered TUT 41-13 to move back into second spot.
The penultimate round of matches this weekend sees Centurion at home to bottom-placed Silver Valke, Oostelikes hosting TUT and sixth-placed Naka Bulls welcoming fifth-placed Harlequins. But all interest will be focused on the Police College where Police will need to repeat the heroics of their 2012 Carlton Cup final victory over Tukkies if they are to stay in the Community Cup race going into the final weekend.
Another heavyweight clash takes place at Kings Park on Friday night, where SA Home Loans Durban Collegians host Jonsson College Rovers at KP 10 (Kick-off 20h00) in a top-of-the-table KZN Moor Cup clash that could go a long way to deciding which of these two powerhouses qualify for 2014.
Collegians, historically KZN’s most successful club and the only team to beat Rovers in 2012, are unbeaten after six matches with 29 points – one behind their neighbours and arch-rivals, who have bounced back well following their gut-wrenching defeat to Despatch in the Community Cup final in George last month.
And in the Western Cape, all eyes will be on Worcester this Saturday where Boland’s two Community Cup sides, Villagers Worcester and Roses United, lock horns at Boland Park (kick-off 16h00).
Roses, who competed as a wild card in the Community Cup, are unbeaten after four rounds and know that they must win the Premier League to have any chance of playing in 2014, as tournament rules state that no wild card can be invited two years in a row.
Worcester, the defending champions with two wins from their three matches, are in the same boat as Roodepoort, knowing that defeat against one of their rivals will only add to the pressure of remaining in top spot in what is a relentlessly unforgiving league played out across a vast area of the Western Cape.
Elsewhere around the country, East Rand Cranes Brakpan continue to dominate in the Valke Peregrine League, there is a logjam of seven teams behind Despatch in the EP Grand Challenge, and Bloemfontein Crusaders stand on the verge of becoming the first team to qualify for 2014 should they beat Tjisas at their Clive Solomon Stadium fortress in the Free State 1st League this weekend.