Welkom Rovers may be one of the most successful clubs in Griffons rugby but they won't be resting on their laurels as the race for Club Champs qualification heats up over the coming weeks.
Rovers, whose best national achievements have been reaching the 1999 Club Champs final (where they lost to Shimlas) and the last four in 2006 (losing to 2010 champions College Rovers), are unbeaten with just a couple of rounds remaining in the five-team Griffons First League.
“We're far ahead of the other clubs but the competition rules state that to qualify for the Club Champs you have to win the semi-final and final as well,” said club chairman Kallie Joubert. “So we've got it all to do. But I'm confident the players can emulate the achievements of last year and, to be quite honest, I think this year's team is stronger.”
Rovers performed admirably at the 2011 Club Champs in Stellenbosch, beating Valke champions Springs 40-36 in the opening round and giving eventual finalists UJ a big scare in the Cup quarter-finals before going down 41-20.
“I was very proud of the way the guys competed against UJ,” said Joubert, who played for Free State in the 1976 Currie Cup final as well as against the All Blacks. “They have hundreds of players to choose from and we have just 45. That's why we are very happy with SA Rugby's decision to leave the universities out of the Club Champs this year.
“It's going to give all the clubs a chance to win the title and it's going to make it a very exciting competition.”
Rovers may be unbeaten but their season hasn't been without incident: they've had to deal with a long injury list while the elements have also played their part. “We travelled to Bethlehem last week to play Oud-Skoliere and were trailing 21-17 at halftime,” said Joubert. “After the break we clicked into gear and were leading 43-21 when a hailstorm and a tornado hit the town and the match had to be stopped!”
Rovers will play Henneman and Welkom Club in their remaining league matches before turning their attentions to the semi-finals next month. “Oud-Skoliere aren't as strong this year as they were last year, but Henneman and Welkom have improved a lot and on the day anything can happen. That's why we have to keep playing the way we've been playing and not stop until we lift the Cup,” added Joubert.
Elsewhere around the country, SK Walmers moved out of the danger zone in the unforgiving Western Province Super League when they beat their more fancied neighbours Hamiltons 15-12 in a match played at the City Park fields in Crawford last Saturday.
Walmers' victory moves them to 27 points and sixth on the log, with the only non-university clubs above them being third-placed Hammies (33 points) and unbeaten log leaders Durbanville-Bellville (41 points). Maties (2nd), UCT (4th) and Victorians (5th) complete the top five.
At the other end of the table, the country's second-oldest club, Villager, are in a struggle to avoid relegation after their 24-17 home defeat to Belhar leaves them in ninth place in the 10-team competition with eight rounds remaining. Two clubs will be automatically relegated at the end of the season, with Villager (11 points) and bottom-placed Tygerberg (5 points) looking to leapfrog the likes of False Bay (8th, 14 points) and Belhar (7th, 17 points) in the coming weeks.
Friday night sees False Bay host Durbanville in Constantia and Villager at home against Hamiltons, with both matches kicking off at 21h00. But the big game of the weekend is undoubtedly SK Walmers vs Tygerberg (15h30).
Up north, newly-promoted Varsity Cup side Wits drew 36-all with 2012 Club Champs hosts Rustenburg Impala to remain unbeaten in the Predator Super League, while there were also significant wins for log leaders UJ (56-19 over Raiders) and resurgent national club champions NWU Pukke (92-17 over Boksburg).
Roodepoort beat Pirates 17-9 to almost certainly book their place at this year's Club Champs, while at the bottom of the table, Alberton finally broke a 42-match losing streak when they beat Union 26-25. And in the battle of the Valke super clubs, Brakpan took a giant step towards Club Champs qualification when they beat Springs 34-24.
Despatch stayed one step ahead of closest rivals SAPS when they beat Spring Rose 37-11 to move one step closer to the Club Champs, while NMMU Madibaz continued their devastating run with a 45-15 drubbing of fifth-placed PE Harlequins.
And in the KZN Moor Cup, College Rovers shrugged off their narrow 23-21 defeat to Varsity Cup champions Tuks in the inaugural Champions' Challenge played at Mr Price Kings Park in Durban on Friday night, with a record-breaking 117-14 victory over Durban Harlequins on Monday night.
With just 80 days remaining until kick-off of the 2012 National Club Championships in Rustenburg on 15 September, the following clubs are confirmed qualifiers: Villagers Worcester (Boland), Durbanville-Bellville (WP), Blanco (SWD) and Sishen (Griqualand West).
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