Defending Cell C Community Cup champions GAP Despatch will encounter a double dose of derbies in the opening rounds of the 2014 tournament, after the Pool draw was confirmed by SARU on Friday.
Despatch, who beat Jonsson College Rovers 26-24 to claim the inaugural Community Cup title in George earlier this year, will represent Eastern Province having finished the Grand Challenge as the province's top-ranked non-university club.
They have been drawn in Pool A alongside the best open clubs from fellow Southern Kings franchise partners South Western Districts and Border, both of whom must still crown their 2013 champions.
Pool B looks set to be just as tough, with Community Cup runners-up College Rovers, who last month won their eighth successive KZN Moor Cup title, and Golden Lions champions Roodepoort, who saw off the challenges of UJ, Wits and Raiders to finish the 2013 Pirates Grand Challenge unbeaten, facing off alongside Bloemfontein Crusaders, who return to the tournament automatically as Free State's top open club, after participating as a wild card earlier this year.
Pool C will have a distinctly northern-union flavour with 2013 bronze medallists Brakpan, the Valke champions, up against Centurion, who finished as the top open club in the Blue Bulls' Carlton League, while Pool D places the best open clubs from the Leopards and Western Province up against Griquas Super League winners Sishen and newly-crowned Mpumalanga Buscor Super League champions Ferros.
The Pool draw was arrived at by ranking the 14 Provinces, plus Limpopo, according to the order in which their clubs finished the 2013 Community Cup.
The final placings from the Easter Championships in George determined the top eight rankings, while places 9-15 were decided by final log points after the tournament's pool stages.
The five wild cards, which will be confirmed by SARU's Games & Policies Committee in early October once all provincial leagues are completed, with occupy the remaining places in the 20-team draw.
With 200 days to go until the opening match of the 2014 Cell C Community Cup on 8 March, eight teams are already confirmed: Despatch (EP), College Rovers (KZN), Brakpan (Falcons), Roodepoort (Golden Lions), Sishen (Griquas), Bloemfontein Crusaders (Free State) as well as newcomers Centurion (Blue Bulls) and Ferros (Mpumalanga).
“The 2013 Cell C Community Cup was a great success and we are hard at work to ensure that the 2014 edition will build on what we've achieved already,” said SARU CEO Jurie Roux.
“The revival of club rugby is one of our main priorities and you just have to look at the increased interest and competition in the provincial premier leagues this year to know that the Community Cup has already established itself as a tournament in which the best clubs want to play. It is providing our club players with an aspirational platform and excellent exposure.”
The 2014 Cell C Community Cup will kick off on 8 March with the first of five rounds of Pool play, with the top two teams from each pool progressing to the Easter Championships, to be held from 17-21 April.
The full 2014 Cell C Community Cup draw (with rankings) is:
POOL A: 1 – Eastern Province (Despatch), 8 – South Western Districts (tbc), 9 – Border (tbc), Wild Card 1 (tbc), Wild Card 2 (tbc)
POOL B: 2 – KwaZulu-Natal (College Rovers), 7 – Golden Lions (Roodepoort), 10 – Griffons (tbc), 15 – Free State (Bfn Crusaders), Wild Card 3 (tbc)
POOL C: 3 – Valke (Brakpan), 6 – Blue Bulls (Centurion), 11 – Boland (tbc), 14 – Limpopo (tbc), Wild Card 4 (tbc)
POOL D: 4 – Leopards (tbc), 5 – Western Province (tbc), 12 – Griqualand West (Sishen), 13 – Mpumalanga (Ferros), Wild Card 5 (tbc)
How the rankings were determined:
1) Eastern Province (Despatch – Champions)
2) KwaZulu-Natal (College Rovers – Runners-up)
3) Valke (Brakpan – Third place)
4) Leopards (Rustenburg Impala – Losers 3rd/4th play-off)
5) Western Province (Durbanville-Bellville – 5th place)
6) Blue Bulls (Pretoria Police – Losers 5th/6th play-off)
7) Golden Lions (Roodepoort – 7th place)
8) SWD (Pacaltsdorp Evergreens – Losers 7th/8th play-off)
9) Border (Old Selbornian – 3rd Pool D, 14 log pts)
10) Griffons (Welkom Rovers – 4th Pool C, 6 log pts)
11) Boland (Villagers Worcester – 4th Pool A, 4 log pts)
12) Griqualand West (Sishen – 5th Pool A, 3 log pts)
13) Mpumalanga (White River – 5th Pool D, 2 log pts)
14) Blue Bulls Limpopo (Noordelikes – 5th Pool C, 1 log pts)
15) Free State (Bloemfontein Police – 5th Pool B, 0 log pts)
16 – 20) Wild Cards