Newly-promoted Vredenburg were the big talking point on a weekend of upsets in SA club rugby after the Cape West Coast town’s 30-21 away victory over defending champions Roses United in the opening round of the 2012 Boland Premier League.
Vredenburg, established in 1998 after the amalgamation of two neighbouring West Coast clubs, finished fourth in the province’s second-tier Super League West league last season but showed their tenacity by winning a series of gruelling play-off matches to win promotion to the big leagues.
Incredibly, the platform for victory was laid not by a pack of grizzled veterans but by a pair of 19-year-old halfbacks – scrumhalf Shavin Papier and flyhalf Ashley Esau, who both represented Boland at Under-19 level last year. Esau turned in a mature performance with 20 points from two tries, two conversions, a penalty and a drop goal, to spark wild celebrations from the team’s travelling fans.
“The day started on a funny note,” said Vredenburg chairman Roderick Coraizen. “Such was the anticipation among our supporters that for the first time in three years we needed to quickly arrange a second bus to get everyone to Wellington. We might need a third bus next time!
“This is our first year in the league and we didn’t expect to win,” he added. “We just wanted to establish ourselves. But after Saturday perhaps we need to set higher goals for ourselves in 2013.”
Coraizen paid tribute to captain Ranold Mattison as well as the coaching and management staff of Joseph Visagie, Rustin Engelbrecht Pierre Bezuidenhout and Shane Williams. “This team’s average age is only 23 or 24,” he said. “Most of them don’t have full-time jobs and four guys are unemployed. But on the West Coast we live for sport and now we just want to keep winning.”
Vredenburg’s second match is away to neighbours Saldanha Bay this Saturday. “It’s a huge derby,” he said. “We lost to Saldanha in the 2009 play-offs and they went up. We fell back a bit in 2010 but now we’ve both reached the top. The whole town will stop for this one.”
In the only other province to have kicked off its league season, SWD, champions Progress suffered a 22-10 home defeat to arch-rivals Evergreens, who remain unbeaten at the top of the Premier League after three rounds. The only other unbeaten sides going into round four this weekend are Crusaders and Bridgton, who beat Silver Stars and Grootbrak respectively.
In addition to league action in Boland and SWD, nine other provinces’ top clubs are currently involved in three separate pre-season cross-border competitions – a development which bodes well for the health of club rugby across the country.
The Eastern Cape Super 12, featuring six clubs each from Border and Eastern Province, reaches the semi-final stage on Saturday with title favourites Despatch hosting Port Elizabeth Harlequins at the De Wet Stadium and defending champions PE Police at home to East London Police at Kemsley Park in an all-Bobbies battle. Both matches kick off at 15h30.
The tournament, sponsored by the Eastern Cape government, has proved popular with players and fans alike. “It’s really helped revive interest in club rugby in our region and the guys enjoy playing against teams from other provinces,” said Qondakele Sompondo, coach of EP club African Bombers. “The standard of rugby has gone up and there are a lot of quality players such as (Springbok Sevens great) Fabian Juries involved.”
There is similar optimism up north after round two of the annual Assupol Super Club Series, featuring 16 sides from the Blue Bulls, Golden Lions, Leopards, Mpumalanga and Valke.
Pretoria Police remain unbeaten in Pool A after racking up their second consecutive half-century in a 58-14 win over Klerksdorp, while fellow Blue Bulls outfit Centurion made it two from two with a 21-16 victory over Valke champions Springs.
East Rand heavyweights Brakpan upset the highly-fancied Rustenburg Impala 27-23 in Pool C to keep their unbeaten record, while in Pool D Middelburg are the unlikely pace-setters after beating defending champions Roodepoort 29-12.
Saturday’s final round-robin matches:
Pool A – Pretoria Police vs Witbank Ferro’s; Boksburg vs Klerksdorp
Pool B – Springs vs Union; Vaal Reefs vs Centurion
Pool C – Rustenburg Impala vs Pretoria Harlequins; Noordelikes vs Brakpan
Pool D – Roodepoort vs Benoni; Silver Valke vs Middelburg
In the Free State Uitdaagbeker, involving four clubs each from Free State and the Griffons, Welkom Rovers play Henneman and Crusaders face Bloemfontein Police in Saturday’s semi-finals.
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