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SAA National Club Champs

Hammies determined to defend SAA National Club Champs title

Defending champions Hamilton of Western Province will look to put a disappointing domestic season behind them when they begin the defence of their SAA National Club Champs title at the Danie Craven Stadium in Stellenbosch on Saturday.

Hammies beat Pukke 36-34 in a dramatic 2009 decider at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria to become the first open club since Pirates – then coached by current Bok assistant coach Dick Muir – achieved the feat nine years ago.

The 36th edition of SA’s most prestigious club tournament will see the 14 provincial champions, as well as Hammies and Limpopo Blue Bulls sub-union winners Noordelike, in a 16-team knockout draw. The week-long event will culminate in a Cup and Plate final on Heritage Day, Friday 24 September, to be broadcast live on SuperSport.

This year’s Club Champs promises to be one of the most competitive ever, with the likes of open club powerhouses Hamilton, College Rovers (2006 and 2008 runners-up) and Springs (2009 semi-finalists) coming up against Varsity Cup heavyweights Tuks, Pukke, Shimlas, University of Johannesburg as well as 12-time national champions Maties, who also enjoy home-ground advantage.

Also returning after a four-year absence are newly-crowned Eastern Province champions Progress, of Uitenhage, who famously beat Maties in the opening round of the 2006 tournament.

Hammies, who lost six matches this season en route to finishing fourth in the Western Province Super League A, were invited to defend their title and coach Anton Moolman believes his squad will make the most of the opportunity. “We might not have won the league in Cape Town but the guys see it as a chance to turn the season around,” he said.

Last year saw only two Varsity Cup teams – Shimlas and Pukke – qualify for the Club Champs after a number of traditionally powerful open clubs across the country awoke from their slumber. But Moolman expects that things will be a lot tougher in 2010 with five student sides in the draw.

“Last year we never had the likes of Tukkies and UJ at the tournament, so it’s going to be interesting to see what those varsity sides bring to the competition,” he said. “I think it comes down to the depth in your squad and how much faith you have in the guys on the bench. If you’re going to go to Club Champs with 15 players you’re going to struggle. You need to be able to back any of your 25 players at any time.”

Moolman said he knew little about his team’s opponents in Saturday’s main game, Limpopo’s Noordelike, but added that they would not be underestimated. “Last year we had a similar situation when we played Kuruman first up,” he said. “You don’t take any team lightly. They’re the best team in their region and you’ve got to give them the respect that’s due.”

Hammies will have to do without star scrumhalf and 2009 Club Champs player of the tournament, Dustin Jinka, who has graduated to playing Absa Currie Cup rugby for the Vodacom Blue Bulls. Moolman will however be able to draw on the experience of veteran centre Clinton van Rensburg and former provincial wing Alshaun Bock – both of whom played a huge role in their 2009 triumph.

“Clinton has been out injured the whole season and he’s really revitalised and looking forward to playing,” said Moolman. “Alshaun was our top try-scorer last year while we also have some exciting players such as fullback Elric van Vuuren and flyhalf Jason de Viliers.

“Up front we have a solid front row, a lock in Tiaan Fick who gets stuck in, and a loose forward in Rikus Smit who’s a potential match-breaker. Then you have your real club stalwarts, guys such as Vaughn Botha and Pierre Cronjé who give everything and who allow the match-breakers to do their thing.

“This is an opportunity for the class of 2010 to leave their legacy,” added Moolman. “They’ve been riding on the back of what happened in 2009 so it’s an opportunity for them to say, ‘we’re also capable of achieving and leaving our mark’.”

The eight first-round winners will qualify for the Cup quarter-finals, which will take place on Monday 20 September. The eight losers will contest the Plate event on the same day. The Cup and Plate semi-finals are scheduled for Wednesday 22 September with the respective finals kicking off on Heritage Day at 11h00 and 13h00 respectively. Both matches will be televised live on SuperSport 1.

The full programme for the opening day of this year’s SAA Club Champs is:

Saturday 18 September

B field:
10h00 – Springs (Valke) vs Mossel Bay Barbarians (South Western Districts)
11h45 – College Rovers (KwaZulu-Natal) vs Bethlehem Oud-Skoliere (Griffons)

F field:
10h00 – SAPS East London (Border) vs Progress (Eastern Province)
11h45 – UJ (Golden Lions) vs Tuks (Blue Bulls)

Danie Craven Stadium:
11h45 – Roses United (Boland) vs Shimlas (Free State)
13h30 – Pukke (Leopards) vs Middelburg (Mpumalanga)
15h15 – Maties (Western Province) vs Kimberley Police (Griqualand West)
17h15 – Hamilton (defending champions, WP) vs Noordelike (Limpopo Blue Bulls)

Issued by SARU Communications