Johannesburg's historic Pirates Rugby Club will have the services of World winning Springbok centre Waylon Murray this Saturday when they continue their bid for a place at the National Club Championships away to newly-promoted Varsity Cup side Wits University.
Pirates, founded in 1888, is the second-oldest club in Johannesburg after Wanderers (founded in 1887) but the Greenside-based outfit had to wait over a century before claiming their only Club Champs title, in 2001, under the coaching of former Springbok Dick Muir.
These days Pirates are coached by stalwart Franna Pelser, under whom they qualified for the 2009 nationals in Pretoria. On that occasion, however, the side came unstuck in the quarterfinals against eventual champions Hamiltons, but Pelser believes the class of 2012 have what it takes to qualify.
This year's Club Champs, which takes place in Rustenburg from 15-21 September, will feature only non-university clubs, meaning that Pirates are competing directly with the likes of fellow Golden Lions Pirates Grand Challenge sides Roodepoort and Raiders for the single automatic qualifying place.
Pelser, the son of legendary Springbok flanker Martin Pelser, grew up next to the Rand Leases rugby complex with former Bok coach Harry Viljoen. It was here that Pelser snr coached Roodepoort while Viljoen’s dad, Ben, was chairman.
“I started coaching Pirates in the early ‘90s and had a stint with Roodepoort as well,” said Pelser, “and I have never failed to make at least the semifinals of the Grand Challenge.”
The club's chances were boosted this week when Murray, who is returning from a long injury lay-off, and Lions prop Jacobie Adriaanse reported for duty, the Bok centre enjoying a semi-contact session against UJ on Tuesday night.
“We will be without eighthman Willem van der Wal for the next few weeks with a broken hand, but there will be no excuses from now on,” said Pelser, after his side lost 39-23 last weekend to reigning national club champions Pukke.
And when Pirates run out against Wits this weekend, not one but two Pelsers will be cheering them on: Martin Pelser, now 78, will take his place next to the field, hoping his team take yet another step towards their Club Champs goal.
Elsewhere around the country, the odds shortened on Pretoria Police qualifying for Club Champs when they beat Oostelike Eagles 112-28 in the Blue Bulls' Carlton League. The Bobbies' cause was helped further when main rivals Centurion lost 34-30 at home to Naka Bulls.
Down south, the two-horse qualifying race between Western Province Super League heavyweights Hamiltons and Durbanville-Bellville reaches its climax on Saturday in Green Point when the two sides clash. Hammies picked up their fourth win of the season last week with a nailbiting 27-22 derby win over neighbours SK Walmers, to take them to fifth on the table. Durbell, meanwhile, kept their unbeaten record with a 67-7 away win over bottom-placed Tygerberg to move to 27 log points – nine behind Maties, who have played two more matches, but crucially five ahead of Hamiltons.
Wits continued their run of form, which has already seen the Jo'burg students qualify for next year's Varsity Cup, with a 26-20 away win over Raiders in the Predator Super League contested by the top Lions, Leopards and Valke clubs. The win comes just a week after their remarkable come-from-behind 42-all draw against SA champs Pukke, and takes them to fourth on the Lions' Grand Challenge log behind Roodepoort, UJ and Pirates.
Sishen look almost certain to contest the Griquas Super League final after a third straight win, 66-7 over bottom-placed Postmasburg, took them to the top of the six-team table with just two rounds remaining. The Northern Cape side need just two points from their remaining matches to book their place, although any of Upington, Kimberley Police, Kuruman or United could still reach the final.
There were good wins for NMMU (43-29 over African Bombers), PE Harlequins (32-18 over United Barbarians) and Despatch (13-10 over defending champions Park) in the EP Grand Challenge, while the country's top non-university club, College Rovers, made it six in a row in the KZN Moor Cup with a 47-25 victory over Zululand Rhinos.
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