The countdown to the fifth edition of the Gold Cup – SA Rugby’s flagship three-nation champions’ league for non-university clubs – has begun in earnest with all 20 participating teams now confirmed.
The tournament kicks off next Saturday, 9 September, with eight matches in the first of five rounds of the pool stages being staged simultaneously across South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe – in Windhoek, Harare, Rustenburg, Cape Town, East London, Welkom and Orkney.
Last Saturday, George-based Progress Rugby Club became the 20th and final team to qualify when they ousted reigning SWD champions Evergreens 24-15 in the Eagles Premiership final in front of 10,000 fans at Outeniqua Park.
Progress will now join their namesakes, Progress of Uitenhage, in what is an intriguing Pool C, which also features tournament wildcards Tygerberg (WP) and Swallows (Border), as well as Border champions Mike Pendock Motors Old Selbornians.Gold Cup champions Newrak Rustenburg Impala, who won their second title in three years in 2016 when they beat WP champs DirectAxis False Bay 48-24 in a pulsating final in the Platinum Belt, will kick off the defence of their crown with a tough home fixture against Cheetahs champions Recall Security Bloemfontein Police, while False Bay host newly-crowned Boland champions Roses United in what promises to be a mouthwatering WP-Boland derby in Cape Town.
The television spotlight will fall squarely on the Mother City on the opening weekend, with Tygerberg hosting Progress Uitenhage in the tournament’s official opening match on Sunday 10 September(broadcast time TBC).
Elsewhere, Swallows of Mdantsane will make their Gold Cup debut when they host tournament regulars Old Selbornians in the big East London derby at BCMM Stadium, which will also see the Border Bulldogs play the Boland Cavaliers in what promises to be a vibrant club-province double-header.
Fellow newcomers Human Auto Welkom and Speedy Car Sales Vaal Reefs host Sasol Hydra-Arc Rugby and Northam Platinum Rhinos in the mining towns of Welkom and Orkney respectively. The Welkom match is once again part of a club-province double-header festival day, with the Griffons hosting the SWD Eagles in a First Division match afterwards.
Raiders and Go Nutz College Rovers will get their campaigns underway when they travel abroad for historic matches in Harare and Windhoek against Old Georgians and debutants Western Suburbs respectively.
GOLD CUP 2017 POOLS
Newrak RUSTENBURG IMPALA (defending champions)
Recall Security BLOEMFONTEIN POLICE (Cheetahs)
Human Auto WELKOM (Griffons)
SASOL HYDRA-ARC RUGBY (Pumas)
Weziswe Security VEREENIGING (Falcons)
QBR (Blue Bulls)
Speedy Car Sales VAAL REEFS (Leopards)
Northam Platinum RHINOS (Blue Bulls Limpopo)
OLD GEORGIANS (Zimbabwe)
Mike Pendock Motors OLD SELBORNIANS (Border)
SWALLOWS (Wildcard, Border)
PROGRESS UITENHAGE (EP)
PROGRESS GEORGE (SWD)
TYGERBERG (Wildcard, WP)
ROSES UNITED (Boland)
IMT SISHEN (Griquas)
WESTERN SUBURBS (Namibia)
Go Nutz COLLEGE ROVERS (Sharks)
DirectAxis FALSE BAY (WP)
ROUND 1 FIXTURES (all kick-off times TBC unless stated):
Saturday 9 September
Newrak Rustenburg Impala v Recall Security Bloemfontein Police (Impala RFC, Rustenburg, 16h00)
Human Auto Welkom v Sasol Hydra-Arc Rugby (Griffons Stadium, Welkom, 13h30)
Speedy Car Sales Vaal Reefs v Northam Platinum Rhinos (Oppenheimer Stadium, Orkney)
Old Georgians v Raiders (Old Georgians Sports Club, Harare,15h00)
Swallows v Mike Pendock Motors Old Selbornians (BCMM Stadium, East London)
DirectAxis False Bay v Roses United (Phillip Herbstein, Constantia, Cape Town)
Western Suburbs v Go Nutz College Rovers (Suburbs Park, Khomasdal, Windhoek, 15h00)
Sunday 10 September
Tygerberg v Progress Uitenhage (Florida Park, Cape Town)