It is still early beginnings in the highly entertaining SuperSport Rugby Challenge, but the bar of excellence has already been set in the opening two rounds of the competition, with another weekend of high-class entertainment awaiting rugby fans across the country.
With two of the high flyers so far – iCOLLEGE Pumas and Tafel Lager Griquas – having a bye this weekend, eyes will be on another pacesetter, the defending champions DHL Western Province, to maintain the high standards set so far. Meanwhile, the continued improvement of the likes of Toyota Free State XV and SWD Eagles will also be looked at in anticipation.
DHL WP have not lost since the competition started in 2017 and will be looking for a 14th straight win, a remarkable achievement indeed, as some of those victories were achieved away from DHL Newlands, the traditional venue for the Cape side.
In fact, the DHL WP will only be in action at DHL Newlands for the second time since the tournament started and Paul Dobson’s young side will be keen to show why they should probably be considered the next bunch of future stars.
The Capetonians take on neighbours Boland, who will be coming into this clash rested and well-prepared after an early bye.
The Cavaliers opened their South Section account with a win over Border Bulldogs in Port Elizabeth two weeks ago and will now be eager to show their intentions at the iconic Cape rugby venue.
The Bulldogs, who went down to DHL WP last weekend, face another tough road trip when they south on the N2 to meet the SWD Eagles in George.
Last weekend, the Eagles started their campaign with a good away win over the EP Elephants and look set to be the main threat to the DHL WP for top position in the South Section.
In the North Section, the clash between Hino Valke and Vodacom Blue Bulls in Kempton Park will have an impact on the final log standing as well. With the iCOLLEGE Pumas currently on a roll, the two Gauteng sides will be desperate to stay in touch with the Nelspruit team.
Another pre-season favourite, the Xerox Golden Lions XV, travel to Namibia to take on the Windhoek Lager Welwitschias in the Hage Geingob Stadium and should have the tools to get the job done.
The Central Section was a highly contested one in 2017 and it appears to be the case once more. The Tafel Lager Griquas started impressively and the other four teams in their section now have a very good idea of what is expected of them if they want to be a factor in the competition.
The Cell C Sharks XV hosts Down Touch Griffons in Durban, where there will be a reunion of sorts in the coaching box, where visiting coach, Oersond Gorgonzola, will shake hands with Ricardo Loubscher, who he coached as a young player at the PE Harlequins club almost two decades ago.
Meanwhile in Bloemfontein, the clash between the Toyota Free State XV and Leopards will pit many familiar faces against each other. Many of these players have faced each other in the FNB Varsity Cup earlier this year and for home town flyhalf, Benhard van Rensburg, it will be a particular emotional experience.
The Thabizimbi-raised player made a name for himself in Potchefstroom where he came through the ‘Koshuis League’ into the FNB NWU side that won the 2016 Varsity Cup. He was afterwards drafted into the Junior Springboks squad and also made his senior debut for the Leopards in the same year.
In 2017 he moved onto even more lofty heights when the 20-year old represented the Cell C Sharks in Vodacom Super Rugby as well as the Currie Cup competitions.
However, he has been battling for playing time so far this year and after a short spell with the Southern Kings in the Guinness PRO14, the 21-year old ‘veteran’ could just get his groove back in the exciting SuperSport Rugby Challenge.
The SuperSport Rugby Challenge fixtures for this weekend are:
Friday, 4 May
Toyota Free State XV v Leopards
Venue: Shimla Park, Bloemfontein
Referee: Paul Mente
SWD Eagles v Border Bulldogs
Venue: Outeniqua Park, George
Referee: Quinton Immelman
Saturday 5 May 2018
DHL Western Province v Boland Cavaliers
Venue: DHL Newlands, Cape Town
Referee: Rasta Rasivhenge
TV: SS 10 (21:00)
Cell C Sharks XV v Down Touch Griffons
Venue: Jonsson KINGS PARK, Durban
Referee: Ricus van der Hoven
TV: SS 10 (22:45)
Windhoek Draught Welwitschias v Xerox Golden Lions XV
Venue: Hage Geingob Stadium, Windhoek
Referee: Jaco Pretorius
Hino Valke v Vodacom Blue Bulls
Venue: Barnard Stadium, Kempton Park
Referee: Ben Crouse
Byes: iCOLLEGE Pumas (North), Tafel Lager Griquas (Central), EP Elephants (South)