It's not often that a club's centenary celebrations precipitate a sharp decline in fortunes, but that's exactly what happened to Upington Rugby Club, who are slowly rediscovering their form after three bumpy years.
The historic Northern Cape club, founded in 1908, played in the National Club Championships as recently as 2005 before the likes of Kimberley Police and more recently Kuruman emerged as the main title contenders.
But Upington now find themselves just two matches away from returning to the tournament after three wins out of four in the Griquas Super League. “We are playing last year's finalists Kuruman this Saturday and pretty much whoever wins that game will be in the final,” said chairman and assistant coach Marius Badenhorst. “Considering where we've come from the past three years, that will be an amazing achievement.”
Badenhorst isn't a born-and-bred Upington resident. He moved to the Northern Cape a few years ago for business reasons, leaving Welkom, and a promising provincial career with the Griffons, behind. And when a neck injury forced the tighthead prop to hang up his boots, Badenhorst decided he “couldn't just walk away completely”.
“It's funny but after we turned 100 things just went downhill,” he said. “I think it was because everyone was building up to the centenary, and then when it came and went the older players and committee members retired. Now we've got a young committee, with most of the guys aged between 28 and 35, and things are looking brighter again.”
The side is coached by Bone Boonzaaier and features a number of talented players, including former Paarl Gym flyhalf Willem Laubscher, who represented NMMU in the 2009 Varsity Cup and UJ in 2010. “We're lucky to have Willem,” said Badenhorst. “His family have a farm near Kakamas, which is 60km from here, and he's a great asset. Then we also have flankers Hendrik Burger and Naas Terblanche, lock Hugo van Niekerk, and centre Chris Voges to watch out for.”
Badenhorst says the club currently has 62 registered players, while the Upington and Duineveld high schools are being looked at as potential feeders in the years to come. “The youngsters are there but they must just be given a reason to join us,” he said. “That's why it would be a huge boost if we were to go to the Club Champs. The players are aware of qualifying, but they're level-headed and keeping it at the back of their minds for now.”
Elsewhere around the country, Durbanville-Bellville (pictured) became the third team after Villagers Worcester (Boland) and Blanco (SWD) to qualify for the Club Champs when they beat nearest challengers Hamiltons 26-14 in the Western Province Super League A, thanks to 16 points from fullback Ian Coetzee.
Durbell's victory extends their unbeaten run to seven – including a 22-20 victory of Maties – and while there is still a mathematical chance of Hammies catching their northern-suburbs rivals, it would take a miracle set of results in the final two rounds for this to happen.
Up north, Varsity Cup champions Tuks also made it seven from seven when they beat closest challengers Pretoria Police 41-28 in the Blue Bulls' Carlton League to claim the prized Lucas Strachan shield awarded annually to the first-round winners.
The biggest shock of the weekend was 2010 national club champions College Rovers' 11-10 loss to Durban Collegians in the KZN Moor Cup. Collegians' gritty victory halted Rovers' incredible 56-match unbeaten run in KZN league and cup matches. It was only their third loss in 67 matches going back to April 2009, the others being at the hands of Hamiltons (2009) and UJ (2011) at the Club Champs.
Wits continued their good run of form when they beat Pirates 26-15 in the Predator League, while Roodepoort moved one step closer to representing the Lions at the Club Champs with a 39-12 victory over Randfontein.
Villagers Worcester suffered their first defeat in the Boland Premier League, going down 24-13 to Wesbank, while in Eastern Province, NMMU edged champions Park 17-13 to strengthen their position at the top of the Grand Challenge log.
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