The Vodacom Cup, the breeding ground for future South African rugby stars, kicks off this weekend with four matches in the North Section scheduled for Friday and Saturday.
The first match will take place on the East Rand, when the Hino Valke host the Vodacom Blue Bulls at the Barnard Stadium in Kempton Park.
Only teams from the North Section are in action this weekend as well as in round two, with the South Section due to get underway in two weeks’ time.
Over the years, the Vodacom Cup has established itself as the competition where Springboks are made. Of the 14 players featured by SARU last year, nine players have since featured at Junior Springbok, Vodacom Super Rugby or Springbok level.
Oupa Mohoje got his first taste of Vodacom Super Rugby and became a Bok in June 2014, via the Vodacom Cup; Jesse Kriel, Marvin Orie, Malcolm Marx, Sikhumbuzo Notshe and Thomas du Toit played Vodacom Super Rugby; while Kriel, Marx and Du Toit were joined at the Junior Springboks by Thabo Mahuza, Aidon Davis and Cyle Brink.
This year, we’ll again feature rising stars in the Vodacom Cup, starting this week with former Junior Springbok prop Devon Martinus from the Leopards XV and Xerox Golden Lions lock JP du Preez.
Special mention has to be made of Eduan van der Walt, who will captain the Steval Pumas this season and is back in rugby after missing the entire 2014 season due to illness after he was diagnosed with Guillain-Barré Syndrome late in 2013.
Competition format for 2015:
South Africa’s 14 provincial unions, as well as the Assupol Limpopo Blue Bulls and the FNB Welwitschias from Namibia will play in two sections, North and South, with eight teams each of the groups. All the teams will play in a single round within their own section after which the top eight sides, four from each section, will progress to the playoffs. Namibia will play all their pool matches at home in Windhoek.
North Section: Vodacom Blue Bulls, Xerox Golden Lions, Down Touch Griffons, Leopards XV, Assupol Limpopo Blue Bulls, Steval Pumas, Hino Valke, FNB Welwitschias.
South Section: Boland Cavaliers, Border Bulldogs, EP Kings, Toyota Free State XV, GWK Griquas, Cell C Sharks XV, SWD Eagles, DHL Western Province.
Rising Star #1 – Devon Martinus (Leopards XV)
Born and bred in Bredasdorp in the Overberg region of the Western Cape, big Devon Martinus first made his mark in the FNB Varsity Shield presented by Steinhoff International playing for the University of the Western Cape.
At 1.86m tall and weighing in at over 120kg, Martinus is a good size for any prop and since playing for UWC, he’s gone on to greater things, capping his rise through the ranks with a place in the South African Under-20 team in 2013, where the Junior Springboks finished third in the tournament hosted by France.
Earlier in 2013, Martinus played three matches in the Vodacom Cup for the Xerox Golden Lions and later that season, as well as last year, he was also part of the Johannesburgers’ Under-21 squad.
He also played in the FNB Varsity Cup presented by Steinhoff International for the University of Johannesburg, featuring in all eight of their matches in 2014.
Martinus, who turned 22 on 28 January of this year, has since moved 120km south-west to the Potchefstroom and is part of the Leopards XV squad for the Vodacom Cup, where he will be looking to make his mark in the senior rugby ranks.
Rising Star #2 – JP du Preez (Xerox Golden Lions)
At 2.09m, JP du Preez is in all likelihood the tallest player ever to play rugby in South Africa, standing one centimetre taller than Springbok lock Andries Bekker.
Du Preez made his Vodacom Super Rugby debut for the Emirates Lions two weekends ago when he came off the bench against the Cell C Sharks in Durban, which made him the tallest player in the 20-year history of this competition.
Having only turned 21 late last year, Du Preez is still young for a tight forward, but this former pupil of Dr EG Jansen High School in Boksburg has vast experience in age-group rugby, having represented the Valke and Golden Lions at U19 and U21 levels in the last three seasons.
In 2013, Du Preez played in the Absa Under-19 Final against the Vodacom Blue Bulls, but earlier in that season he also played for the Golden Lions’ U21s.
Last year, Du Preez was a stalwart of the Golden Lions Under-21s, featuring in 11 of their 13 matches as the youngsters from Johannesburg reached the semi-finals. He was also part of the Junior Springbok training group but missed out on selection in the final squad.
Round 1 fixtures:
Friday, 6 March
Hino Valke v Vodacom Blue Bulls
Venue: Barnard Stadium, Kempton Park
Referee: Kurt Weaver (USA)
FNB Welwitschias v Xerox Golden Lions
Venue: Hage Geingob Stadium, Windhoek
Referee: Pro Legoete
Steval Pumas v Down Touch Griffons
Venue: Mbombela Stadium, Nelspruit
Referee: Ben Crouse
Saturday, 7 March
Leopards XV v Assupol Limpopo Blue Bulls
Venue: Profert Olen Park, Potchefstroom
Referee: Jason Jaftha