The Northern Cape mining town of Kathu will be represented at the SARU National Club Championships for the first time after Sishen Rugby Club beat neighbours Kuruman 22-18 in a nail-biting Griquas Super League final last Saturday.
It will be Sishen's maiden appearance at the season-ending tournament, to be held this year at the Rustenburg Impala Rugby Club from 15-21 September, and which will feature non-university teams only for the first time in its 38-year history.
Sishen’s victory also meant heartbreak for Kuruman for the second year running, after they had finished the 2011 league unbeaten, only to lose the final to Kimberley Police in an historic, post-extra time penalty shoot-out.
Sishen will join three other clubs already qualified, namely Villagers Worcester (Boland), Blanco (South Western Districts) and Durbanville-Bellville (Western Province). Interestingly, none of the four appeared at the 2011 tournament and, like Sishen, it will be Durbanville's first appearance on the national stage.
The identities of the remaining 12 automatic qualifiers and two invited teams will be confirmed over the course of the next two-and-a-half months as the various provincial leagues reach their climax.
Elsewhere around the country, Varsity Cup champions Tuks geared up for their upcoming unofficial heavyweight title clash in Durban against SA's top-ranked non-university club, College Rovers, with a ninth straight victory – 27-14 over Naka Bulls – in the Blue Bulls’ Carlton League.
The Champions’ Challenge has the backing of SARU as well as the KZN and Blue Bulls Rugby Unions, and takes place on Friday 22 June at Mr Price Kings Park (kick-off 17h00), as the curtain-raiser to the ‘Barney’s Army’ charity match between tThe Sharks and a John Smit World XV. It will be the first time since the 1991 National Club Championships that Tuks play in KZN.
“A match between the Varsity Cup champions and the country's best so-called ‘open’ club is a game which many people have been calling for,” said SARU CEO Jurie Roux. “Providing non-university clubs with increased exposure and better competitive platforms is one of SARU’s priorities and we look forward to making further announcements later this year.”
Tuks’ victory gives the Pretoria students a four-point lead over nearest rivals Pretoria Police, who hammered Silver Valke 95-0 to move one step closer to representing the province at the Club Champs.
Across the Jukskei River, Union caused one of the biggest upsets of the weekend in the Predator Super League when they beat Raiders 34-19 on a bitterly cold afternoon at the Bill Jardine Stadium in Johannesburg.
In other results, Wits beat Brakpan 22-10, the vastly-improved NWU Vaal hammered Alberton 55-7, and Club Champs hosts Rustenburg Impala eased past Pirates 45-26. Valke clubs in particular proved very competitive against the league’s university clubs, Springs beating national club champions NWU Pukke 24-15 and Boksburg going down 41-29 to UJ in a tightly-contested affair.
In Mpumalanga, there is little to separate Middelburg and Witbank Ferro’s as they vie for the Highveld title, after Middelburg beat East Rand Police 50-12 and Ferros crushed Elsburg 66-0 in the cross-border Merlin league also featuring the best Leopards and Valke clubs not competing in the Predator.
The top Highveld team will play the Lowveld champions at the end of the season for a place at the Club Champs, with Nelspruit and Witrivier the favourite at this stage to emerge from what has proved to be a highly-competitive 2012 Lowveld league.
And in the Western Province Super League, Club Champs qualifiers Durbanville-Bellville beat Belhar 60-31 to record their eighth straight victory and move within five points of Maties at the top of the league.
A bonus-point victory by 17 points or more for Durbell in their next match, against second-from-bottom Villager, will ensure that the northern suburbs side finish top of the league after the first round. Such an achievement would be fully deserved for Durbell, after they Maties 22-20 at the Danie Craven Stadium last month to underline their class.