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CLUBS around the country are in the final phases of preparation for the 2014 Cell C Community Cup, which kicks off in little over a month's time when Gap Management Despatch begin their title defence against arch-rivals Spring Rose.
SARU's official national club rugby championship for non-university clubs kicks off on 8 March with eight pool matches taking place across the length and breadth of the country, from Roodepoort, Polokwane, Emalahleni and Rustenburg in the north to Durban in the east and down south to Mossel Bay and Wellington.
But all roads will lead to the WJ de Wet Stadium in Despatch where the home side face fellow Eastern Province side Spring Rose in the opening match, which will be broadcast live on SuperSport (kick-off tbc).
A tight tussle is expected between these two old foes, who finished second and third respectively behind current FNB Varsity Cup front-runners NMMU Madibaz in the 2013 EP Grand Challenge – arguably the second strongest premier league in the country after the Western Province Super League. Spring Rose, who will be coached this year by Lulama Mpalala, were the only team to beat the Madibaz last season, while the New Brighton side lost 25-21 to Despatch at the venue of next month's Community Cup opener.
Despatch, who will once again be coached by former Springbok lock Adri Geldenhuys, lost narrowly to Madibaz and drew with the EP Kings' Vodacom Cup side in warm-up matches, while they will arrive in Cape Town on Tuesday for a two-match tour which includes friendlies against fellow Community Cup sides Roses United (12 Feb, Faure St Stadium, Paarl, 20h00) and Hamiltons (15 Feb, Stephan Oval, Green Point, two matches at 14h45 & 16h00).
Despatch's pre-season activity is mirrored elsewhere around the country, with a number of clubs involved in warm-up matches. The likes of Rustenburg Impala, Centurion and Roodepoort have enjoyed hit-outs against Varsity Cup heavyweights Pukke, UJ and UP-Tuks, while BB Truck Noordelikes and Sishen have played their Limpopo and Griquas Vodacom Cup sides.
On Friday night in a double header in the West Coast town of Darling, Roses United will play the Boland Vodacom Cup side (21h00) while Wesbank will play the curtain-raiser against a Boland XV (19h30).
On Saturday, Bloemfontein Crusaders will literally meet Community Cup newcomers Boksburg 'halfway' when the two sides clash at the Kroonstad Stadium (kick-off 15h30), while Vaal Reefs travel to Welkom. And Varsity Shield side CUT will travel to the Sivos Stadium in Kathu for a match against Sishen (kick-off 15h30).
Despatch vs Spring Rose apart, the opening weekend of Community Cup 2014 is packed with intriguing battles. In Pool C, title contenders Brakpan, the Valke champions, travel from the East Rand to the West Coast to play Boland champions Roses United at Pelican Park in Wellington. And another capacity crowd is expected at the D'Almeida Stadium in Mossel Bay where Barbarians will host Bridgton in an all-SWD affair.
Adding spice to this Southern Cape derby is the fact that Barbarians will have a point to prove, having lost 25-24 to Bridgton in the 2013 SWD Premier League final at the neutral venue of George, thanks to a try after the hooter. Barbarians will be hoping that their formidable home-ground advantage will help them to reverse that heartbreaking loss.
“No other tournament we run covers as much ground or has the potential to leave its mark on so many geographically and culturally diverse communities in such a short period of time,” said SARU CEO, Jurie Roux. “In the pool stages alone, clubs will be travelling nearly 25,000km, which is an average of over 600km per match for 40 matches. For the players it's going to be an unforgettable experience as well as a perfect platform to showcase their skills.”
The two highest-placed clubs in each of the four Pools will qualify for the Easter Championship play-offs, to be hosted
once again by the SWD Rugby Football Union at Outeniqua Park in George from 17-21 April.
The Cell C Community Cup 2014 fixtures are available by clicking here.