The town of Worcester will be represented at the National Club Championships for the first time in over a decade after Villagers' 34-27 away win over Saldanha last Saturday ensured they would win the first round of the Boland Premier League with a match to spare.
Few observers gave Villagers much chance at the start of the season, with regular Club Champs representatives Roses United, of Wellington, and perennial bridesmaids Wesbank, of Malmesbury, expected to resume what has become an all-too-familiar two-horse race for qualification in recent years.
But Roses' poor early-season form, which included a 30-21 away defeat to newly-promoted Vredenburg on the opening weekend, together with a four-match suspension handed down to Wesbank, opened the door for surprise packages Villagers, Robertson and Ceres to break away from the chasing pack.
“This will be our second visit to the Club Champs and the overwhelming feeling is of relief,” said Villagers' coach Elroy Daames. “We went to the 2000 tournament but as a so-called development team. Now we are going on merit, as Boland's number-one side.
“We had to fight for survival last season but we decided to start our pre-season preparations a little earlier this year and it has paid off. Our club is healthy. Player numbers are up and we have five high schools in the area which are becoming strong feeders once again. We're very proud of our achievement.”
Villagers Worcester will be joined at the Club Champs by Blanco, who became the second team to qualify when they beat George 36-16 over the weekend for their 10th straight win in the SWD Premier League. As with Villagers, Blanco's win means they have an unassailable lead after the first round and will represent the province at the season-ending tournament in Rustenburg from 15-21 September.
Elsewhere around the country, the battle for the remaining places is hotting up and nowhere more so than in Western Province, where Durbanville-Bellville's dramatic 22-20 win over Maties at the Danie Craven Stadium in Stellenbosch has given the club from Cape Town's northern suburbs an unexpected five-point lead over main rivals Hamiltons, the 2009 national club champions.
Durbell are the only unbeaten team left in the WP Super League A, with 22 points from their five matches. Hammies have lost two matches, but the Green Point club have managed to stay in touch by picking up five bonus points, which may yet prove invaluable.
All eyes will be on Green Point on 26 May when Hamiltons host Durbell in what may be a potential Club Champs qualifying decider.
Up north, Pretoria Police hammered neighbours Harlequins 57-0 to remain unbeaten together with Tukkies at the top of the Blue Bulls' Carlton League after five rounds.
And in the Predator Super League, contested by the top 15 clubs from the Lions, Leopards and Valke, the match of the week was undoubtedly Wits University's come-from-behind effort that saw the Jo'burg students draw 42-42 with national club champions Pukke. Among the non-university clubs, Roodepoort continued their push for a Club Champs spot after a 55-0 win over luckless Alberton, who are experiencing a horror run of injuries in their 100th year.
But perhaps the biggest surprise of the weekend came in the Eastern Province Grand Challenge, where African Bombers upset Despatch 22-12 at home to set the scene for an intriguing battle for Club Champs qualification that will involve at least two or three other clubs, including SAPS, PE Harlequins and Gardens.
Up the East Coast, there was another upset in the KZN Moor Cup when Durban Collegians, still licking their wounds following a 20-14 loss to UKZN Pietermaritzburg, made it two defeats on the trot at home when they lost 25-22 to Old Boys. Collegians, despite outscoring their Durban North neighbours by four tries to one, were forced to watch on as Old Boys flyhalf Warren Randall slotted a last-gasp drop goal to secure a much-needed four-point haul.
And in the Central regions, Sishen's 33-30 win over Kuruman takes them to the top of the Griqualand West Super League, while in a free-flowing, all-student affair in Bloemfontein, Shimlas edged CUT 38-34 to take control of the Free State First League.