All systems go for SARU National Club Championships

Two-time champions Despatch will have the honour of playing in the first match of this year's new-look SARU National Club Championships when they take on White River on Saturday morning at the Impala club in Rustenburg.

The Championships will be hosted by the Leopards Rugby Union for the first time in its 38-year history, while the tournament will also break new ground by not including any university teams in its line-up this year, following a SARU decision to provide as many of the country's top 'open' clubs as possible with the opportunity to play on the national stage.

It is interesting to note that had the tournament been open to Varsity teams, only UJ, Shimlas and NMMU would have qualified.

2010 national champions College Rovers, of KZN, and Western Province's number-one ranked club, Durbanville-Bellville, are the overwhelming favourites for the title along with hosts Rustenburg Impala and Blue Bulls champions Pretoria Police.

Durbell, who currently lead the Western Province Super League A by 10 points after home-and-away victories over both Maties and UCT this season, will be battle-hardened going into their opening match against SWD league winners Blanco following a hard-fought 38-17 victory over Belhar last weekend.

Rovers, in contrast, will have had a three-week break by the time they meet Limpopo champions Noordelikes on Saturday. The Durban side, coached by former Springbok scrumhalf Robert du Preez, wrapped up the KZN Moor Cup league title for a seventh consecutive time in July before beating Crusaders in the Castle Murray Cup final last month.

Rovers are the most successful club in South African rugby in recent years. Since 2006, they have reached the Club Champs final three times, winning once, and have only once failed to reach the semi-finals. Rovers' Murray Cup final victory on 25 August was also their 75th in 79 matches dating back to April 2009 a remarkable achievement when one considers that this statistic includes three Club Champs campaigns.

Pretoria Police are one side who will not be over-awed by Rovers' impressive track record. The Bobbies beat reigning Varsity Cup champions Tuks 27-23 in this year's Carlton Cup final at Loftus Versfeld something College Rovers could not do when they lost to the Pretoria students in a festival match in Durban earlier this year.

Impala will have the huge advantage of playing on their home ground, and boast a team brimful of players with provincial experience. Coached by Chris Buitendach, Impala reached the semi-finals of this year's Predator Super League before losing to reigning national club champions Pukke.

The winners of Saturday's eight first-round matches will advance to the Cup quarter-finals on Monday, with the losers competing for the Plate. The Cup and Plate semi-finals will be played on Wednesday, while both the Cup and Plate finals will be broadcast live on SuperSport next Friday, 21 September.

Day 1 fixtures (Sat, Rustenburg Impala Rugby Club):

B Field
10am: Sishen vs Brakpan (F)
11.30am: Pretoria Police vs Welkom Rovers (E)
2.30pm: Durbanville-Bellville vs Blanco (D)

A Field
8.30am: White River vs Despatch (G)
10am: Bloemfontein Police vs Old Selbornians (C)
11.30am: College Rovers vs Noordelikes (B)
1pm: OPENING CEREMONY
2.30pm: Roodepoort vs Naka Bulls (A)
4pm: Rustenburg Impala vs Villagers Worcester (H)

Cup quarter-finals (Mon 17 Sept):

Top half of draw:
Winner A vs Winner H (Match I)
Winner E vs Winner D (Match K)

Bottom half of draw:
Winner C vs Winner F (Match L)
Winner G vs Winner B (Match J)

Cup semi-finals (Wed 19 Sept):

Top half:
Winner I vs Winner K (Match Q)

Bottom half:
Winner L vs Winner J (Match R)

Cup Final (Fri 21 Sept):
Winner Q vs Winner R

National Club Championship winners 1975-2011:

2011 Pukke 19 UJ 14
2010 College Rovers 24 Maties 15
2009 Hamilton 36 Pukke 34
2008 Pukke 17 College Rovers 12
2007 Maties 24 Tukkies 8
2006 Pukke 33 College Rovers 21
2005 Maties 24 UJ 13
2004 Pukke 41 TUT 10
2003 Tukkies 46 Pukke 25
2002 Shimlas 34 Pukke 26
2001 Pirates 37 Tygerberg 13
2000 Maties 54 Tukkies 37
1999 Shimlas 45 Welkom Rovers 9
1998 Maties 28 RAU 10
1997 Maties 30 RAU 15
1996 Pretoria Police 70 Old Greys 29
1995 Pretoria Police 26 Durban Crusaders 12
1994 Durban Crusaders 34 Oud-Studente 2*
1993 Durban Crusaders 8 Despatch 2*
1992 RAU 40 Harlequins 22
1991 Old Greys 36 Despatch 6
1990 Tukkies 22 Despatch 20
1989 Roodepoort 29 Goudstad Onderwyskollege 22
1988 Despatch 13 Tukkies 12
1987 Defence (WP) 26 Despatch 8
1986 Shimlas 14 Tukkies 6
1985 Despatch 28 Tukkies 6
1984 Maties 16 Tukkies 15
1983 Harlequins 29 Tukkies 12
1982 Maties 25 RAU 6
1981 Maties 32 Pretoria Police 9
1980 Villager 14 Maties 3
1979 Maties 27 Tukkies 11
1978 Maties 15 Tukkies 9
1977 Maties 12 Harlequins 10
1976 Tukkies 19 Maties 0
1975 Maties 28 Durban Collegians 20

Issued by SARU