The club season in Gauteng gets underway in earnest on Saturday when the new 15-team Predator 1 Super League kicks off with two high-profile matches at Coca-Cola Park in Johannesburg.
Randfontein will play Pirates at 13h00, followed by Roodepoort against Raiders at 14h45, with both matches being curtain-raisers to the Vodacom Cup tussle between the MTN Golden Lions and the Ford Pumas, which begins at 17h00.
The Predator, which aims to unite the provinces north of the Vaal River in a single tournament to increase exposure and lift playing standards, will feature the top Golden Lions, Leopards, Valke and Mpumalanga clubs this year, with the Blue Bulls set to join in 2013.
A total of 36 clubs from across the four provinces will do battle for the cross-border titles in two divisions, while at the same time competing concurrently for their traditional domestic trophies when playing against teams from the same union.
The spotlight may be on the likes of Pirates and Raiders as they begin their quest for a place at the SARU National Club Championships in Rustenburg in September, but for ambitious Soweto Rugby Club the 2012 season is just as important.
Like many community clubs formed in 1992 when the country's different rugby bodies united, Soweto celebrate their 20th anniversary this year and will play in the Golden Lions' second league, the Senior Grand Challenge, as well as the Predator 2. “We're not here by luck,” said Soweto secretary Zola Ntlokoma. “We have a five-year plan and are already one year ahead in our planning. Everything has happened very quickly.
“We are proud to have been around for 20 years. Many other clubs who were formed at around the same time have since closed shop along the way, so the fact that we want to get up to the Pirates Grand Challenge (the Lions' top league) next year shows we intend sticking around.”
Ntlokoma puts Soweto's budding success down to “brilliant planning” and the influence of a coaching staff that includes two former Springboks.
“Kaya Malotana, Lawrence Sephaka and Deon Damons introduced us to the mentality of believing in youngsters and management bought into this vision,” said Ntlokoma.
“Now it's paying dividends. We have a development programme which is seeing the 16- and 17-year-olds coming through, while last year we played two teenagers on the wing and they scored over 20 tries each. We believe in the future instead of the old tried and tested.”
Ntlokoma said this Saturday's opening match at home against Germiston Simmer would give the club an accurate gauge of where they stood. “We have a vision of being one of the leading clubs in the country by 2015, but we don't want to pass this pressure on to the players. For them they must just look at the 2012 season, win their home games, and then take things from there.”
Soweto, in partnership with the Gauteng government, the Golden Lions Rugby Union and the City of Johannesburg, will also host a significant Freedom Day long weekend tournament as part of their anniversary celebrations. The festival will take place from 28-30 April at the Braamfischerville complex and feature eight senior sides as well as junior teams from across the country.
In other Predator 1 matches, Boksburg host Benoni and Springs are at home to NWU-Vaal in all-Valke affairs, while Brakpan travel to Union and Rustenburg Impala, hosts of this year's Club Champs, welcome Alberton.
In other news from around the country, newly-crowned Varsity Cup champions UP-Tuks sent a strong warning to the rest of the field when they opened the defence of their Blue Bulls Carlton League title with a 101-9 hammering of newcomers Oostelike Eagles. Open club Centurion showed their intent with a 66-0 drubbing of TUT, who were relegated from the Varsity Cup this year, while last year's Carlton finalists Pretoria Police hung on to beat Naka Bulls 29-27.
Down south, losing Varsity Cup finalists Maties also got their season off to a log-topping start, winning 67-10 away to Belhar in the opening round of the WP Super League A, where there were also wins for Hamiltons, UCT, Victorians (Maties' 2nd XV) and Durbanville-Bellville.
The country's top open club, College Rovers, continued on their winning ways in the KZN Moor Cup, beat Old Boys 41-3, while in the Eastern Province Grand Challenge there were big wins for title contenders Despatch, PE Harlequins, SAPS and NMMU.
• For the latest club fixtures from these and other provinces, as well as results & logs from all 14 provinces, visit www.sarugby.co.za and click on the Club Rugby menu. On Twitter, follow: @saclubrugby