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GARDENS Rugby Club of Uitenhage grabbed the final spot in this weekend’s Gold Cup qualifying play-offs when they recorded an historic first-ever EP Grand Challenge title on Wednesday night.
Gardens beat Port Elizabeth Harlequins 27-13 in front of 3,000 spectators at the Central Ground in Uitenhage to ensure they are just two play-off matches away from representing Eastern Province in SA Rugby’s three-nation championship for non-university clubs, which kicks off on 10 September.
All rugby roads in the Eastern Cape will lead to the DP Ferreira Stadium in Rosedale on Saturday afternoon when Gardens host arch-rivals East London Police, who finished top of the Border Super League, in one of four Gold Cup play-off knockout matches scheduled across the country for 15h00.Vaal Reefs will host newly-crowned Limpopo champions Potgietersrus in Klerksdorp; Blue Bulls Carlton Cup champions Matleng Centurion will welcome Wesbank of Boland; and in Durban, Your Communications College Rovers will continue their Gold Cup rivalry of recent years against Raiders of Johannesburg.
The eight play-off teams are seeded according to the final provincial rankings from the 2015 Community Cup – as the Gold Cup was known then. The format is straight knockout, with the four winners from this weekend playing against each other in two matches next Saturday, 27 August. The two surviving sides will take their places in Pools A and D of the Gold Cup proper.
“When 3,000 people come out on a cold Wednesday night to watch club rugby in a working-class town like Uitenhage you just know there’s something special brewing around community rugby,” said SA Rugby CEO, Jurie Roux. “Last weekend we had a full house at Outeniqua Park in George for the SWD final and that wasn’t even the biggest crowd of the weekend.
“Boland Park saw 9970 people attend the Worcester derby between Villagers and Young Hamiltons and this trend of people flocking back to club rugby is being seen all across the country. The Gold Cup will kick off in three weeks’ time and and it’s then that the wider rugby public will hopefully see just how much the club game has bounced back in the last few years.”
The Gold Cup kicks off on 10 September, with 20 clubs once again competing in a Rugby World Cup-style format consisting of eight pool matches per week for five weeks up until 8 October. The top two from each group will progress to the quarter-finals a week later. All knockout matches, including the televised semi-finals (22 October) and grand final (29 October) will be hosted at participating clubs.
The rugby-mad Boland town of Worcester will host the televised opening match of the tournament when OneLogix United Bulk Worcester Villagers – at 133 years, the oldest club in the Gold Cup having been founded in 1883 – host Tiger Wheel & Tyre Welkom Rovers in Pool A. The match will be broadcast live on SuperSport 1 & HD, kicking off at 14h45.