UJ look to break title drought
THE University of Johannesburg will look to end an 18-year title drought when they kick off their SAA National Club Championships campaign with a tough fixture against Blue Bulls champions and fellow Varsity Cup side Tuks.
The 36th edition of the country’s premiere club competition takes place from 18-24 September at the University of Stellenbosch, and will feature 14 provincial champions, title holders Hamilton and invited team Noordelike in a 16-team draw.
UJ, then still known as RAU, last won the tournament in 1992 when they beat Pretoria side Harlequins in the final. Since then, the Johannesburg students have reached three finals – in 1997, 1998 and 2005 – losing to Maties each time.
UJ will be doubly determined to make an impact this year, having failed to qualify for last year’s tournament after losing out to open club Pirates.
“One of our goals this season was to qualify for club champs and we won 17 out of 18 league games,” said UJ coach Hugo van As. “Last year we got off to a bad start while this year we were fortunate to have a bigger squad, which meant we were able to rotate players.”
Van As believed the presence of many of UJ’s Varsity Cup rivals, including Tuks, would make it a tough week. “If you have to play two or three varsity sides in one week and you pull through, then you really deserve that title,” he said. “I believe that there are a lot of factors that go into determining whether you win, including the draw and the conditioning of your players because having to play four games in such a short space of time really takes its toll on the body.
“We’ve however had a good run in the league with our squad system and I think it will benefit us in a tournament like the club champs. During the week you have to use your 25 or 26 players. There’s no way you can play so many games with the same players.”
With the Club Champs kickoff just over two weeks away, only Eastern Province have yet to confirm their champions.
Police will represent Border at the tournament after they beat defending champions Buffalo 23-16 in a nail biting the Premier League final played at the Buffalo City Stadium last week. It’s the Bobbies’ first title since 1994.
Roses United will be Boland’s representatives after finishing top of the Premier League log this season.
The Eastern Province Grand Challenge semi-finals will take place at the EPRU Stadium in Port Elizabeth on Friday, with Gardens taking on champions Park at 18h30, followed by SAPS vs Progress at 20h00.
Police and Park dominated Pool A of the 14-team competition, with each side winning 10 of their 12 league matches to finish on 50 and 47 league points respectively – 12 points clear of third-placed Harlequins. Gardens (49) and Progress (46) did likewise in Pool B, with 12 points separating them from Crusaders.
Together with the Western Province Super League A, the EP Grand Challenge ranks as one of the toughest and most competitive club leagues in the country. Varsity Cup side NMMU could finish only fourth in Pool B, while 2008 champions Despatch managed just three wins in their 12 matches to finish a lowly sixth in the same group.
The draw for the first round of the SAA Club Champs is:
1 Hamilton (defending champions, WP) vs 16 Noordelike (Limpopo Blue Bulls)
2 Pukke (Leopards) vs 15 Middelburg (Mpumalanga)
3 College Rovers (KwaZulu-Natal) vs 14 Bethlehem Oud-Skoliere (Griffons)
4 Springs (Valke) vs Mossel Bay Barbarians (SWD)
5 Maties (Western Province) vs Kimberley Police (Griqualand West)
6 UJ (Golden Lions) vs 11 Tuks (Blue Bulls)
7 Roses United (Boland) vs Shimlas (Free State)
8 Police (Border) vs Eastern Province (tbc)
Issued by SARU Communications