Raiders of Johannesburg strengthened their hopes of qualifying for this year’s Gold Cup international championship for non-university clubs with a thrilling 28-22 victory over Wanderers at the Bill Jardine Stadium last weekend.
Two tries apiece from wings Dean Gordon and Zunaid Kock ensured that the Longdale-based side moved to the top of the Golden Lions’ Pirates Grand Challenge after two rounds, ahead of Wanderers, UJ and the Union’s Gold Cup representative, Pirates.
Raiders, who finished 11th in last year’s Community Cup – as the Gold Cup was known then – must finish the league as the highest-placed non-university club to qualify for the Gold Cup play-offs in August, which will decide the final two places in the 20-team tournament that also includes, for the first time, the best open clubs from Namibia and Zimbabwe.Should Raiders qualify, they will find themselves in either Pool A or D alongside some of the reigning provincial champions from the 14 provincial unions plus Limpopo.
“It’s clear even at this early stage of the season that clubs across the country are going all-out to qualify for the Gold Cup and the result is competitive leagues and high-quality performances just below the provincial level,” said SA Rugby CEO, Jurie Roux.
“Club rugby has come on in leaps and bounds since the advent of the Community Cup just three short years ago and we are confident that the Gold Cup era will help continue that upward curve.
“A year ago, Garth April was helping Durbanville-Bellville win the Gold Cup and this week he is about to start his first Vodacom Super Rugby match for the Cell C Sharks in New Zealand. There are many more Garth Aprils out there and we will strive to do all we can to provide platforms so that they are not lost in the system.”
The Gold Cup will kick off on Saturday, 10 September, with the 20 clubs once again competing in a Rugby World Cup-style format, with five weeks of pool stages up until 8 October and the top two from each group progressing to the quarter-finals a week later. All knockout matches, including the semi-finals (22 October) and grand final (29 October) will be hosted at participating clubs.
Sixteen clubs are already confirmed for the season-ending tournament, including current Namibian Premier League log-leaders FNB Wanderers Windhoek. Zimbabwe’s qualifier will be decided on 11 June, with Harare-based Old Georgians and Old Hararians currently setting the early pace in the Northern league.
The race for the remaining two qualifier slots will be contested by those clubs who finish the 2015 league season as the top non-university club in their province, having not done so in 2015. The qualifiers will be played on 20 and 27 August, with the Gold Cup kicking off a fortnight later with a televised opening match.