With the halfway stage of pool action something of the past and the sixth round of the SuperSport Rugby Challenge kicking off on Friday, three teams will be protecting their unbeaten records after the first 30 matches of the season.
The iCOLLEGE Pumas (North Section), Toyota Free State XV (Central) and DHL Western Province (South) have not had their flags lowered by any of their pool opponents, but they will be well aware that a number of tricky fixtures are coming their way in the next six weeks.
The iCOLLEGE Pumas, in particular, travel to Pretoria this weekend where they will face a resurgent Vodacom Blue Bulls at Loftus Versfeld. The men from Pretoria have improved significantly since the defeat to the Nelspruit side in the opening round in April.
Not only will the Vodacom Blue Bulls be boosted by their home crowd, they also have a number of players in impressive form. One of these is Earll Douwrie, who not only contributes on attack for the Pretoria side, but is also kicking with deadly accuracy.
The 20-year-old fullback, who hails from Worcester, has scored 53 points so far, including a try against the iCOLLEGE Pumas in Nelspruit in round one. The Vodacom Blue Bulls have scored 27 tries already in their four matches, second only to Tafel Lager Griquas (29), and Douwrie converted 17 of those.
The iCOLLEGE Pumas are no strangers to the tryline either, having scored 23 tries and they have their own sharpshooter in Chris Smith, who has amassed 48 points so far this season.
The other match in the North Section will see Windhoek Draught Welwitschias travelling to Kempton Park, where the Hino Valke will be waiting. The men from the East Rand won their opening clash in Windhoek, but the Namibians will be well rested after a bye last weekend.
The high-scoring Tafel Lager Griquas will be confident about their trip on Friday to Potchefstroom, where they face a winless Leopards side at the Fanie du Toit Stadium in the Central Section. The more familiar surroundings might just spur on the big number of FNB NWU-Pukke players for the home side.
The men from Kimberley scored an easy win in the corresponding fixture at home in round one, winning 80-14 and scoring 12 tries in the process, but they can expect a more competitive Leopards side this time around, desperate for that first win in this year’s tournament.
The Toyota Free State XV will meanwhile try to repeat their opening round win over the Down Touch Griffons when they host the Welkom side in the Toyota Stadium in Bloemfontein. The Free Staters have the best defensive record in the Central Section and that will have to work well again, as the visitors scored seven tries against Tafel Lager Griquas last weekend in Kathu.
The form and kicking prowess of Ernst Stapelberg will be of some concern for Oersond Gorgonzola and his team, as the Free Staters’ pivot has scored 44 points already and clearly benefitted from the move to flyhalf after earlier starts at fullback.
The South Section has been dominated by DHL Western Province so far. The defending champions have scored 26 tries and only conceded seven in 2018, and they can rightly be regarded as favourites for their trip to Wolfson Stadium in Kwazakhele to face the EP Elephants.
The Capetonians outplayed the hosts 59-12 at the same venue in the opening round and with their dangerous outside backs in fine form, will be looking for another big win. Duncan Saal in particular, has been finishing off his chances and scored six tries already, with Edwill van der Merwe and Craig Barry equally lethal in carving up defences.
The action in the South Section starts on Friday night when the Border Bulldogs host the Boland Cavaliers. The Western Cape side rallied late in their first clash against Border to win. Tiger Mangweni’s side has since showed continued improvement and secured a first win recently when they edged EP. They will be even better this time around, coming from a bye and will be very competitive at the BCM Stadium.
Round 6 Fixtures:
Friday 25 May
Leopards v Tafel Lager Griquas
Venue: Fanie du Toit Stadium, Potchefstroom
Referee: Quinton Immelman
Toyota Free State XV v Down Touch Griffons
Venue: Toyota Stadium, Bloemfontein
Referee: Ruhan Meiring
Border Bulldogs v Boland Cavaliers
Venue: BCM Stadium, East London
Referee: Ben Crouse
Saturday 26 May
Vodacom Blue Bulls v iCOLLEGE Pumas
Venue: Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
Referee: Archie Sehlako
TV: SS 10 (delayed 22h45)
Valke v Windhoek Draught Welwitschias
Venue: Barnard Stadium, Kempton Park
Referee: Vusi Msibi
EP Elephants v DHL Western Province
Venue: Wolfson Stadium, Port Elizabeth
Referee: Paul Mente