FNB Maties, the 12-time SAA National Club Champions, firmly closed the book on their disappointing FNB Varsity Cup campaign when they recorded a resounding win on the opening weekend of the Western Province Super League A last Saturday.
The Stellenbosch students beat newly-promoted Belhar 69-3 at the Danie Craven Stadium in the final match of a weekend that saw no fewer than 68 clubs involved in premier league action across the country.
There are currently more than 800 clubs affiliated to the 14 provincial unions, of which a total of 136 will compete in their respective top leagues this year for the chance to qualify for the season-ending SAA National Club Championships in September.
Maties, who have not won the national title since 2007, will need to finish top of 10-team SLA after the first round of matches if they are to qualify.
The SLA is arguably the strongest club league in the country, and includes the likes of Varsity Cup finalists FNB UCT, 2009 national club champions Hamilton, and traditional powerhouses False Bay and Villagers.
“People say it’s good for the Varsity Cup that another team will win this year but I don’t see it that way,” said Roux, the former WP and Stormers No 8. “I’m not a sponsor, I’m a coach, and I want us to try and win every Varsity Cup for the next 10 years. But our main priority, now that the Varsity Cup is done and dusted, is to win the league and then win the National Club Championships.”
Roux believes that last year’s runners-up Durbanville-Bellville, who kicked off their campaign with a 46-21 away win at False Bay last week, are the dark horses for the title. “It’s a different ball game when you’re the defending champion and everyone’s gunning for you,” he said. “When Hamiltons won the title, we were able to fly under the radar a bit last year but it won’t be like that now. I think Durbell will be a force to be reckoned with.”
Roux is able to call upon veterans such as eighthman Bennie Booysen, lock Bertho van der Westhuizen and wing Louw Schabort – all of whom were too old to play in the Varsity Cup – but said that experience counted for nothing if he and the team didn’t adapt. “This is my seventh year as Maties coach and the game changes so quickly that even if you use what worked for you last year, let alone seven years ago, you might not survive,” he said.
In other action from around the country, Valke champions Springs, who lost 49-27 to Maties in last year’s Club Champs quarterfinals, kicked off their Peregrine Super League defence with a nailbiting 32-27 win over fierce rivals and 2009 Club Champs semifinalists Brakpan.
Boland champions Roses United beat Abbotsdale 43-15 to record their third straight win in the Premier League while Old Selbornian caused an upset when they beat 2010 Club Champs plate finalists East London Police 38-24 on the opening weekend of the Border Super League.
SWD champions Barbarians also suffered a defeat when they went down 32-25 to Evergreens, while, up north, Club Champs regulars Nelspruit were beaten 32-13 by Witrivier in the Mpumalanga Lowveld League.
• Premier leagues have already kicked off in nine provinces. The Eastern Province Grand Challenge starts this coming Saturday, April 9, the Golden Lions’ Pirates Grand Challenge on Friday, April 15, and the Blue Bulls’ Carlton League on Saturday, April 16. National club champions, Jonsson College Rovers, who beat Maties in the 2010 final, begin the defence of their KZN Fidelity Security Premier Division title on the same day.
• For full nationwide results from the past weekend, log on to www.sarugby.co.za and click on the Club Rugby link.
• SARU will publish a national club rugby round-up every Tuesday until the end of September. In addition, weekly fixtures, results and logs from the 14 top provincial leagues will be updated throughout the season on the SARU website.
• You can also follow SARU’s club rugby coverage on Twitter at @saclubrugby