The Steval Pumas and the Sharks XV are in. So are the champions from the last three seasons, the Vodacom Blue Bulls, DHL Western Province and the ICBC Pampas XV. But six other teams have their work cut out for them if they are going to reach the Vodacom Cup quarter-finals this year.
The league phase of the Vodacom Cup comes to an end this weekend and for the Valke, Assupol Limpopo Blue Bulls, SWD Eagles, Regent Boland Cavaliers and Border Bulldogs it will be their last match of this competition in 2013.
However, a group of six teams that have won no less than nine Vodacom Cup titles between them – the Leopards XV, GWK Griquas, MTN Golden Lions, Down Touch Griffons, EP Kings and Toyota Free State XV – will be going all out to secure those last three quarter-final spots.
The quarter-finals will be contested at the home grounds of the top two teams in each section. The match-ups will be across the sections, meaning North 1 will host South 4, South 1 will play North 4, North 2 will take on South 3 and South 2 will host North 3.
All four matches in this section will have a bearing on the final standings, with only two of the five teams in the running for places in the quarter-finals, the Steval Pumas and Vodacom Blue Bulls, assured of advancing to the quarter-finals.
One log point from their match against the Leopards XV will be enough to secure the Steval Pumas home ground advantage in the quarter-finals, but if they win in Potchefstroom, the team from Mpumalanga will top the log.
The Leopards XV, on the other hand, can still be overtaken by both GWK Griquas and the MTN Golden Lions, which would see them miss out on a playoff spot altogether.
Considering the teams from Kimberley (away to the Valke) and Johannesburg (at home against the Assupol Limpopo Blue Bulls) have easier final round fixtures, the Leopards XV will want to go out all guns blazing on Friday evening.
The Vodacom Blue Bulls will be favourites when they host the Down Touch Griffons in Pretoria on Saturday afternoon and will secure home ground advantage in the playoffs with a win in this match.
The Northern Free Staters can still slip in through the back door if they manage to beat the Vodacom Blue Bulls with a try-scoring bonus point and both GWK Griquas and the MTN Golden Lions lose without their matches.
The top four in the South Section is virtually done and dusted, with the Toyota Free State XV a slim outside chance of beating the EP Kings to the quarter-finals.
But home ground advantage is still up for grabs, with a number of possible permutations as the Sharks XV, DHL Western Province, ICBC Pampas XV and the EP Kings fight it out to move into the top two.
A win for the KwaZulu-Natalians, at home on Friday against the Argentineans, will be enough to see them clinch first position on the log, but the ICBC Pampas XV, champions in 2011, can still overtake DHL Western Province into second position on the log.
By the time the Free Staters’ match against DHL Western Province kicks off at 16h45 in Bloemfontein, both teams will know exactly what is needed for them to make it into the top four or get home ground advantage in the quarter-finals.
But this encounter will count for nothing for the Toyota Free State XV if the EP Kings, away to the Regent Boland Cavaliers, manage to secure a solitary bonus point in Wellington. It would move the Kings to 21 points, and the team from Bloemfontein can’t go higher than 20.
Nothing more than bragging rights are up for grabs when the SWD Eagles and the Border Bulldogs’ campaigns come to an end in George on Saturday afternoon.
Round 7 fixtures: (Current log position and total points in the two sections for each team in brackets)
Friday, 26 April
Sharks XV (first, 24) v ICBC Pampas XV (third, 21)
Venue: Kings Park, Durban
Leopards XV (third, 20) v Steval Pumas (first, 25)
Venue: Profert Olën Park, Potchefstroom
SWD Eagles (sixth, 9) v Border Bulldogs (eighth, 5)
Venue: Outeniqua Park, George
Saturday, 27 April
Vodacom Blue Bulls (second, 23) v Down Touch Griffons (sixth, 13)
Venue: Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
Valke (seventh, 9) v GWK Griquas (fourth, 17)
Venue: Barnard Stadium, Kempton Park
MTN Golden Lions (fifth, 16) v Assupol Limpopo Blue Bulls (eighth, 0)
Venue: Alberton Rugby Club, Alberton
Regent Boland Cavaliers (seventh, 8) v EP Kings (fourth, 20)
Toyota Free State XV (fifth, 15) v DHL Western Province (second, 22)
Venue: Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein