SAA National Club Champs countdown – 58 days to go
Western Province club rugby’s unrivalled strength in depth will be on display at the 36th annual SAA National Club Championships when both defending champions Hamilton and 12-time winners Maties will vie for the trophy.
Following the tournament’s successful staging in Pretoria last year, the most prestigious event on the club rugby calendar returns to the University of Stellenbosch for the fifth time in six years and will take place from 18-25 September.
Maties, who claimed a hat-trick of FNB Varsity Cup titles earlier this year, will represent WP at the Club Champs after holding off newly-promoted False Bay to finish top of the Super League A after the first round.
This year Maties will be joined at the event by fierce local rivals Hamilton after organisers decided to allow the previous year’s champion the right to defend their title – regardless of whether or not they won their respective league.
“It’s official, we will be in Stellenbosch to defend our title this year,” said club president Dave Kagan. “This is the first time it’s ever happened that the defending champions have been invited back to defend their title and we’re delighted.
“We’ve had a tough season with a very long list of injuries but the team will back to full strength by the time the championships take place.”
Hammies, who beat Pukke 36-34 in a nail biting final played at Loftus Versfeld last year, have not enjoyed the best of seasons in the WP leagues, losing four early-season matches to leave them well off the pace.
However, the Green Point team, who are based just a stone’s throw away from the Cape Town Stadium and who celebrate their 135th anniversary this year, have recovered well and are currently just one point behind surprise leaders Durbanville-Bellville, who have 42 points from 12 matches in WP’s Super League A.
Maties, who lost to False Bay in the first round, have however not resumed their campaign due to the extended student holidays and have a number of games in hand.
In other provincial action, perennial Free State champions Shimlas have once again qualified for the Club Champs after defeating Irawas – their second XV – in the final of the Bloemfontein Stadsbeker.
The Free State students are however one of the great underachievers of the Club Champs, having won the last of their three titles back in 2002, and they will want to prove that they are capable of lifting the silverware once more.
The KZN Moor Cup has resumed after a lengthy break due to the FIFA World Cup and looks set to be a two-horse race between champions College Rovers and traditional foes Durban Collegians.
Collegians, whose last visit to the Club Champs was in 2005 when they reached the semi-finals, beat Maritzburg Varsity 43-3 to take them to the top of the log. Rovers, who have won the KZN title for the past four years, do however have a match in hand.
In the Golden Lions’ Pirates Grand Challenge league, Varsity Cup sides UJ and NWU-Pukke lead the way with defending champions Pirates trailing in sixth position with only a handful of matches remaining.
The same applies in the Blue Bulls’ Carlton League, where title-holders Police are in fifth place behind front-runners Tukkies, whom they beat in last year’s final.