OOSTELIKES Eagles will look to cap a fairytale season when the resurgent Pretoria club play Varsity Cup champions Tuks in the Blue Bulls' Carlton League final at Loftus Versfeld B on Saturday.
Victory over their student rivals will not only be a remarkable achievement for a club that last year claimed the wooden spoon and conceded a century of points on three occasions, but also allow them to stake a serious claim for inclusion as a wild card entry into the 2014 Cell C Community Cup.
Three of the 20 slots for the 2014 edition of SARU's elite tournament for non-university or so-called 'open' clubs have already been filled, with Centurion set to represent the Bulls after finishing as the highest-placed open club on the final Carlton League log.
As defending champions, GAP Despatch will be assured of their place should they not qualify automatically as the top open club in Eastern Province at the end of the season, while Bloemfontein Crusaders made history when they became the first wild card in the short history of the Community Cup to re-qualify by right, as Free State's top open club.
Oostelikes reached the Carlton final after they beat Centurion 16-14 in the first semi-final last weekend, while Tukkies dispatched Pretoria Police, who finished sixth in the Community Cup, 38-23 in a titanic struggle.
The Carlton League is one of South Africa's most famous club competitions and is undergoing a renaissance after years out of the spotlight. The match between Tukkies and Oostelikes is one of five finals taking place at the Loftus B and C fields on Saturday, with the students in the running to make it a clean sweep of the silverware on offer.
The action gets underway at 13h00 with Tuks taking on TUT in the Under-19 final (Loftus C) and Tuks Pumas facing Centurion in the Third League decider (Loftus B). At 14h30, Tuks play TUT in the Under-21 final (Loftus C) while Tuks Fezelas come up against Centurion in the Second League final on the B field.
All eyes will then be on the Loftus B field when Tuks run out against Oostelikes in the main match, which kicks off at 16h00.
Down south in the Western Province Super League A, a new league format, which includes a Carlton-type final, will be introduced as from 2014. But for this year the main aim for clubs remains to finish top of the league after the final round of matches on 14 September.
The last WP club to win a national club title, Hamiltons, in 2009, are currently just a short head behind Durbanville-Bellville in the race for a 2014 Community Cup slot, with the Green Point side currently eight points adrift of their northern-suburbs rivals as the season heads into its second round.
Hammies have a game in hand over Durb-Bell, who have 35 points from their nine matches and who are under pressure to finish as the top open club in WP if they want to re-qualify for the Community Cup, with tournament rules stating that champion clubs cannot be invited as a wild card the following year should they lose their number-one ranking.
The three-horse race for Community Cup qualifying is completed by SK Walmers, who turned around a mediocre season with a 16-12 win over Hamiltons last weekend, to register their fifth victory in 10 matches.
Like Durb-Bell, SK Walmers must finish as the top open club to have any chance of participating in next year's Community Cup, as no wild cards may be invited two years in a row.
Looking at the run-in, Hammies seem to have the best draw, with six of their remaining 10 matches at home including games against three of the bottom four sides – Tygerberg, Bellville and Belhar – in the next three weeks. The country's oldest club also have the luxury of hosting both Stellenbosch teams, Maties and Victorians, before finishing their campaign against lowly Tygerberg and Helderberg, albeit both away, which may just be enough to ensure one last twist in the tale come the final fortnight.
Durb-Bell have nine matches remaining – five of them away – but a one-month break between the end of June and the end of July may be just what the doctor ordered for a club that has been playing non-stop since early February, culminating in their creditable fifth-place finish in the Community Cup.
SK Walmers have just eight matches left and will have to pick up as many victories as possible if they are to have any chance of reeling in Durb-Bell, who have a 10-point cushion at this stage. The Bo-Kaap side must play five of these matches away, which includes a trip to the Danie Craven Stadium to face Maties.
Looking at the fixture list, two matches involving Durb-Bell may prove pivotal to the final outcome. SK Walmers host last year's league runners-up at the Green Point Track on 22 June, after which neighbours Hamiltons will look to repeat their 48-13 win in Durbanville last month when they host the return fixture on 20 July after a four-week break.
Elsewhere around the country, arguably the country's strongest and most competitive league at present, the EP Grand Challenge, is reaching boiling point with another eight matches kicking off across the Eastern Cape on Saturday.
Community Cup champions GAP Despatch, currently one point behind leaders and Varsity Cup semi-finalists NMMU, will look to bounce back from their first defeat of the league to the Madibaz two weeks ago when they host fifth-placed PE Harlequins – one of seven teams, separated by just seven points, bunched in the chasing pack.
The pick of the weekend's matches must however be the derby between fourth-placed Spring Rose, with 27 points, and Community Cup wild cards African Bombers. Such is the competitiveness of the Grand Challenge this year that, despite finding themselves ninth on the table with 21 points, Bombers have lost just twice and are not yet out of the running.
Up north, Sishen have taken a firm grip on the Griquas Super League following their 39-12 win over Kimberley in a top-of-the-table clash in Kathu last weekend, while Witbank Ferros flexed their muscles again in the Mpumalanga Buscor League with an 87-0 win over Nelspruit that sees them open up a four-point lead over Middelburg with four rounds remaining until the play-offs.
Roodepoort, who finished seventh in the Community Cup, look unstoppable in the Golden Lions Pirates Grand Challenge following their seventh straight win, a 21-19 nail-biter against second-placed Wits, while Community Cup bronze-medallists Brakpan booked their place in the Valke Peregrine final on 13 July by beating Springs 33-22 in a typically tough-as-nails East Rand derby.
And in the Western Cape, Roses United made it seven from seven in the Boland Premier League with a hard-fought 10-3 win over Wellington that sees the Community Cup wild cards open up an eight-point lead over second-placed Ceres, who have a game in hand, and whom they face in a keenly anticipated top-of-the-table clash this weekend.
Champions Villagers Worcester, who are fifth in the standings, will meanwhile look to step up a gear when they host Saldanha at Boland Park in Worcester on Saturday afternoon.
This weekend's nationwide Premier League club fixtures (as supplied to SARU by its provincial unions):
Blue Bulls – Carlton Cup, Saturday (Final):
Tukkies vs Oostelikes
Blue Bulls Limpopo – Boet Fick Senior League:
Boland – Premier League, Saturday (Round 9 of 18):
Villagers Worcester vs Saldanha
Roses Utd vs Ceres
Wesbank vs Hawston
Vredenburg vs Black Leaves
Robertson vs Wellington
Border – Premier League:
EP – Grand Challenge, Saturday (Round 9 of 16):
SAPS vs Gardens
Progress vs Crusaders
Brumbies vs Orlando Eagles
Kruisfontein vs Utd Barbarians
St Marks vs Suburban
Spring Rose vs African Bombers
NMMU vs Park
Despatch vs Harlequins
Free State – 1st League, Friday (Finals):
Shimlas vs Irawas (Stadsbeker)
Bloemfontein Crusaders vs Bloemfontein Police (Rowan Cup)
Golden Lions – Pirates Grand Challenge/Predator:
Griffons – 1st League, Friday (Round 10 of 12):
Kroonstad vs Welkom Rovers
Welkom vs Henneman
Griquas – Super League, Saturday (Week 11 of 14):
Upington Dorp vs Upington United
KZN – Fidelity Security Moor Cup:
Leopards – Neser A League, Saturday (Final round):
Potch Dorp vs Lichtenburg
Vryburg vs Matlosana
Hartbeesfontein vs Leeudoringstad
Mpumalanga – Buscor Super League:
SWD – Premier League, Saturday (rescheduled matches):
Crusaders vs Evergreens (Round 1)
All Blacks vs Silver Stars (Round 7)
Valke – Peregrine Super League:
WP – Super League A, Saturday (Week 11 of 24):
Belhar vs Helderberg
Tygerberg vs Durb-Bell
Bellville vs SK Walmers