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Club Champs

Club Champs debut for Bethlehem Oud-Skoliere

The Eastern Free State region will be represented at the SAA National Club Champs for the first time ever after Bethlehem Oud-Skoliere beat perennial Griffons champions Welkom Rovers to qualify for the most prestigious tournament on the club rugby calendar.

This year’s tournament will be held at the University of Stellenbosch from 18-24 September and will feature the country’s 14 provincial champions as well as title-holders Hamilton (Western Province). In addition, SARU’s competitions committee has asked all provinces to nominate one top club to fill the final slot in the 16-team draw.

After years in the doldrums, rugby in the Eastern Free State has been given a huge boost thanks to Bethlehem’s nailbiting 35-31 win over Rovers in the Griffons cup final.

The region, which has produced a number of Springboks down the years including Danie Craven, Faan Rautenbach, Hendro Scholtz and Bismarck & Jannie du Plessis, has played second fiddle to Welkom since the disbanding of the Eastern Free State Rugby Union in 1996 and their assimilation into the Griffons union.

“This victory is great news for Eastern Free State rugby and for our club, which celebrates its 50th anniversary next year,” said Bethlehem Oud-Skoliere captain Potberg Fourie. “We’ve been building this side for the past three years and all the hard work has finally paid off.”

Fourie was coaxed out of retirement in 2008 by honorary president Japie van Wyk after the 33-year-old former Free State tighthead prop had returned to the area to continue running his farm.

“Japie said to me, ‘you have to make a difference in life’,” said Fourie. “Those words had a huge effect on me and I decided to come out of retirement. Now that we’ve achieved our goal, we can start preparing for Stellenbosch. We have a team full of experienced players who can make their mark.”

Van Wyk said: “There are 14 clubs in the Eastern Free State region but we have been competing in the Griffons league for the past six years.” He also paid tribute to first-team coaches Tienie Greyling and Dolf van Rensburg for their sterling efforts. “People have been phoning from far and wide since hearing the news and the whole community is behind the team.”

Van Wyk said the team’s strength was their pack of forwards, with loosehead Herkie van der Walt, hooker Drikus Strydom and flanker Kobie Rossouw, in particular, names to watch out for in Stellenbosch.

With the Club Champs kickoff just over four weeks away, Bethlehem Oud-Skoliere join a growing list of nine other clubs from around the country who have already qualified, including champions Hamilton (WP), University of Johannesburg (Golden Lions), Tuks (Blue Bulls), Mossel Bay Barbarians (SWD), College Rovers (KZN), Middelburg (Mpumalanga), Maties (WP), Shimlas (Free State) and Pukke (Leopards).

UJ qualified for their first Club Champs since 2008 when they finished top of the Golden Lions’ Pirates Grand Challenge league, while Tuks made up for their Carlton Cup final loss to Police last year by beating their Bobbies nemeses 49-23 last Saturday.

The Pretoria University students, who have lost only one of their 16 matches this season, scored 111 points in the playoffs after beating Silver Valke 62-28 in the semifinals of one of South Africa’s most famous club competitions.

The Eastern Province Grand Challenge is heading for an exciting finish, with champions Park and SAPS the favourites going into the final two rounds of league action. They hold a 10-point advantage over third-placed Harlequins and are 20 points ahead of United Barbarians in the seven-team A section.

This weekend’s fixtures see Park away to Suburban, SAPS at home to Windvogel United, and Quins hosting United Barbarians, while Crusaders face St Marks and Progress host Gardens in the B section. Saturday also sees the semi-finals of the Border Premier League, with champions Buffalo hosting Old Boys at Buffalo Park and Winter Rose taking on Police in Mdantsane.

Issued by SARU Communications