They might not boast their opponents’ history or big-name players, but Polokwane’s Noordelike Rugby Club are determined to prove themselves against defending champions Hamilton at this year’s SAA National Club Championships.
The 36th edition of the country’s premiere club competition takes place from 18-24 September at the University of Stellenbosch, with Noordelike drawn to face Hammies – the country’s oldest club – in the main match on the opening day.
The two teams will be joined by the 14 provincial union club champions in a 16-team draw, with the eight first-round winners progressing to the Cup quarter-finals and the losers contesting the Plate.
“The goal we set for ourselves in 2005 was to represent Limpopo at the Club Champs and we’ve now been provincial champions for four of the past five years,” said Noordelike head coach Shaun van der Merwe. “We were lucky enough to be invited last year but we will be a lot more prepared this time around.”
Noordelike lost heavily to then-champions Pukke and narrowly (31-29) to SWD’s Great Brakrivier at the 2009 Club Champs held in Pretoria, but Van der Merwe is nevertheless relishing the opportunity of coming up against the title-holders once again.
“It’s a nice draw!” he laughed. “We’re looking forward to it and we’re definitely not going there just to make up the numbers. We’re going there to win. We know what to expect and we definitely want to make a name for ourselves.
“We’re not a big club but we went through the season unbeaten, and that included games against big sides such as Pretoria Police. We want to go out and prove that platteland rugby, especially in Limpopo, also deserves its place alongside the big boys.”
Van der Merwe said the team would once again rely heavily on captain and scrumhalf Theyman Jongbloed for inspiration. “He’s an excellent and underrated player,” said the coach. “I think he could definitely play at a higher level if he was given the opportunity.
“We learnt a few tough lessons from last year’s tournament and this year we’ve worked hard on our discipline,” said Van der Merwe. “The rugby was on a different level to what we were used to and it’s at that level that we have to get accustomed to playing.”
With the Club Champs kickoff just over a week away, only Eastern Province have yet to confirm their champion.
The EP Grand Challenge final, between defending champions Park and Uitenhage side Progress, will take place on Friday at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth. Kick-off is at 17h00, with the match being followed by the Currie Cup First Division match between the EP Kings and Boland Cavaliers.
In the semi-finals played last weekend, Park beat Gardens 23-17 while Progress, who famously beat Maties in the opening round of the 2006 Club Champs, beat SAPS 16-10.
The full programme for the opening day of this year’s SAA Club Champs is:
Saturday 18 September
10h00 – Springs (Valke) vs Mossel Bay Barbarians (South Western Districts)
11h45 – College Rovers (KwaZulu-Natal) vs Bethlehem Oud-Skoliere (Griffons)
10h00 – SAPS East London (Border) vs Park / Progress (Eastern Province)
11h45 – UJ (Golden Lions) vs Tuks (Blue Bulls)
Danie Craven Stadium:
11h45 – Roses United (Boland) vs Shimlas (Free State)
13h30 – Pukke (Leopards) vs Middelburg (Mpumalanga)
15h15 – Maties (Western Province) vs Kimberley Police (Griqualand West)
17h15 – Hamilton (defending champions, WP) vs Noordelike (Limpopo Blue Bulls)
Issued by SARU Communications