Two-time champions Despatch will have the honour of playing in the first match of this year's new-look SARU National Club Championships when they take on White River on Saturday morning at the Impala club in Rustenburg.
The Championships will be hosted by the Leopards Rugby Union for the first time in its 38-year history, while the tournament will also break new ground by not including any university teams in its line-up this year, following a SARU decision to provide as many of the country's top 'open' clubs as possible with the opportunity to play on the national stage.
It is interesting to note that had the tournament been open to Varsity teams, only UJ, Shimlas and NMMU would have qualified.
2010 national champions College Rovers, of KZN, and Western Province's number-one ranked club, Durbanville-Bellville, are the overwhelming favourites for the title along with hosts Rustenburg Impala and Blue Bulls champions Pretoria Police.
Durbell, who currently lead the Western Province Super League A by 10 points after home-and-away victories over both Maties and UCT this season, will be battle-hardened going into their opening match against SWD league winners Blanco following a hard-fought 38-17 victory over Belhar last weekend.
Rovers, in contrast, will have had a three-week break by the time they meet Limpopo champions Noordelikes on Saturday. The Durban side, coached by former Springbok scrumhalf Robert du Preez, wrapped up the KZN Moor Cup league title for a seventh consecutive time in July before beating Crusaders in the Castle Murray Cup final last month.
Rovers are the most successful club in South African rugby in recent years. Since 2006, they have reached the Club Champs final three times, winning once, and have only once failed to reach the semi-finals. Rovers' Murray Cup final victory on 25 August was also their 75th in 79 matches dating back to April 2009 – a remarkable achievement when one considers that this statistic includes three Club Champs campaigns.
Pretoria Police are one side who will not be over-awed by Rovers' impressive track record. The Bobbies beat reigning Varsity Cup champions Tuks 27-23 in this year's Carlton Cup final at Loftus Versfeld – something College Rovers could not do when they lost to the Pretoria students in a festival match in Durban earlier this year.
Impala will have the huge advantage of playing on their home ground, and boast a team brimful of players with provincial experience. Coached by Chris Buitendach, Impala reached the semi-finals of this year's Predator Super League before losing to reigning national club champions Pukke.
The winners of Saturday's eight first-round matches will advance to the Cup quarter-finals on Monday, with the losers competing for the Plate. The Cup and Plate semi-finals will be played on Wednesday, while both the Cup and Plate finals will be broadcast live on SuperSport next Friday, 21 September.
Day 1 fixtures (Sat, Rustenburg Impala Rugby Club):
10h00: Sishen vs Brakpan
11.H30 Pretoria Police vs Welkom Rovers
14h30: Durbanville-Bellville vs Blanco
08h30: White River vs Despatch
10h00: Bloemfontein Police vs Old Selbornians
11h30: College Rovers vs Noordelikes
14h30: Roodepoort vs Naka Bulls
16h00: Rustenburg Impala vs Villagers Worcester