Race to the playoffs is getting serious – Vodacom Cup Round 8 Preview

Apr 29 • General News, Vodacom Cup • 2115 Views • Comments Off on Race to the playoffs is getting serious – Vodacom Cup Round 8 Preview

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While the top teams in the North and South Sections have all but secured their places in the Vodacom Cup quarter-finals, home ground advantage in the playoffs is still up for grabs as the pool phase nears its end.

 

In the North Section, the Xerox Golden Lions, Steval Pumas and Vodacom Blue Bulls occupy the top three positions and have opened up a gap between them and the chasing group. They will feature in the quarters, with the two sides from Gauteng looking likely to host matches in Johannesburg and Pretoria.

 

The fourth position could go to anyone of the Down Touch Griffons, Leopards XV, Hino Valke or even the FNB Welwitschias, which is making Friday’s match in Windhoek between the Namibians and the East Randers vital.

 

On Saturday, the Leopards XV host the Down Touch Griffons in Hartbeesfontein and the loser of that match will struggle to make the top four.

 

The South Section is just as congested at the top, but DHL Western Province, as one of only two unbeaten teams left in the competition, should have enough to host a quarter-final. They travel to Bloemfontein this weekend to take on the third-placed Toyota Free State XV.

 

Second-placed GWK Griquas, the defending champions, have a tough assignment in Pietermaritzburg against the Cell C Sharks XV, currently in fifth position. Nothing but a win will be enough for the KwaZulu-Natalians to keep alive their aspirations of reaching the playoffs and they will be a dangerous opponent for the team from the Northern Cape.

 

A win for the SWD Eagles over the Border Bulldogs in Albertinia will go a long way in pushing their cause to reach the top four in the South Section, while the EP Kings and Boland Cavaliers will have similar hopes when they clash in Cirtusdal. Both these matches take place on Saturday afternoon.

 

Rising Star #15 – Kefentse Mahlo (Vodacom Blue Bulls)

 

Versatility has become a massive drawback in the careers of some players, but not all of them and that is especially true for Vodacom Blue Bulls speedster Kefentse Mahlo.

 

For the last four seasons Mahlo, who turned 22 a month ago, has been starring at fullback, wing and scrumhalf for the Vodacom Blue Bulls in the Vodacom Cup as well as at age-group level. He’s even had a stint in the FNB Varsity Cup presented by Steinhoff International for UP-Tuks and did not disappoint.

 

Looking at his try-scoring exploits, it’s become clear Mahlo knows his way to the try-line. And at 1.75m tall and weighing in at around 80kg it will be easy to group him with players such as Cheslin Kolbe, Gio Aplon or Mark Richards, but what very few people know is that Tzaneen-born Mahlo cut his teeth playing scrumhalf.

 

Mahlo, an old boy of Ben Vorster High School in Tzaneen, just like Springbok prop Trevor Nyakane, represented Limpopo at U13 and U16 levels before playing for their Coca-Cola Craven Week U18 side for two seasons.

 

Thereafter he moved to Pretoria and in 2012 he immediately made his mark in the Vodacom Blue Bulls’ U19 side, scoring five tries in the season where they finished runners-up to DHL Western Province.

 

Last year, Mahlo and the Vodacom Blue Bulls’ U21s turned the tables on their counterparts from Cape Town though, with the speedster dotting down for six tries during the season. He is no slouch and during the last few years has swapped between left and right wing, as well as fullback, with ease.

 

In 2014 Mahlo also got his first taste of senior rugby, making three appearances from the bench in the Vodacom Cup for the Vodacom Blue Bulls – one at fullback and two at scrumhalf, scoring one try in the process.

 

And this year, Mahlo has already scored five tries in the Vodacom Cup for the team from Pretoria, again featuring in most positions in the back three.

 

Rising Star #16 – Jean-Luc du Plessis (DHL Western Province)

 

To see a former provincial stalwart’s son turn out in the colours of another union seems out of place, but for Jean-Luc du Plessis it only lasted two seasons before he found his way back to his roots.

 

The 20-year-old Du Plessis has been starring at flyhalf in the blue and white hoops of DHL Western Province recently, the team his father Carel was once synonymous with, but for the last two seasons he played in the black and white jersey of the Sharks.

 

Just like his dad, Jean-Luc also attended Paarl Boys’ High School from where he made the Western Province U18 side in 2012, but a couple of months later he swapped the Western Cape for KwaZulu-Natal.

 

In 2013, Du Plessis kicked two conversions as the Cell C Sharks U19s trounced their counterparts from Cape Town by 38-0 in Durban. He was the KwaZulu-Natalians’ top points’ scorer that season with 116 points, consisting of five tries, 17 conversions, 18 penalty goals and a drop-goal.

 

Last year Du Plessis played twice for the Cell C Sharks XV, making his senior debut from the bench against the Tusker Simba XV and starting against the EP Kings and scoring a total of 13 points in the process.

 

He got his first taste of international rugby for the Junior Springboks in New Zealand at the World Junior Championships in 2014, where he was backup flyhalf for the SA U20 captain Handré Pollard.

 

His opportunities at U21 level was limited in Durban and at the end of last season, Du Plessis moved back to Cape Town. He duly made the No 10 jersey his own in the Vodacom Cup this season, starting in each of DHL Western Province’s five matches and scoring 49 points in the process.

 

The talented Du Plessis has time on the ball and sublime skills, and his goal-kicking has been a real strength this season, while his option-taking is constantly improving. He has been showing signs that he may just follow in the footsteps of his father as he tries to also become a WP hero.

 

Round 8 fixtures:

 

Friday, 1 May

 

FNB Welwitschias v Hino Valke

Kick-off: 19h00

Venue: Hage Geingob Stadium, Windhoek

Referee: Lourens van der Merwe

 

Saturday, 2 May

 

Leopards XV v Down Touch Griffons

Kick-off: 14h30

Venue: Hartbeesfontein

Referee: Tahla Ntshakaza

 

Toyota Free State XV v DHL Western Province

Kick-off: 14h30

Venue: Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein

Referee: Jason Jaftha

 

Cell C Sharks XV v GWK Griquas

Kick-off: 15h30

Venue: Woodburn Stadium, Pietermaritzburg

Referee: Linton Lloyd

 

SWD Eagles v Border Bulldogs

Kick-off: 16h00

Venue: Albertinia Rugby Club, Albertinia

Referee: Francois Pretorius

 

Boland Cavaliers v EP Kings

Kick-off: 16h00

Venue: Central Sports Grounds, Citrusdal

Referee: Pro Legoete

 

Vodacom Blue Bulls v Assupol Limpopo Blue Bulls

Kick-off: 16h40

Venue: Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria

Referee: AJ Jacobs

 

Byes: Steval Pumas, Xerox Golden Lions

 

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