WHILE the rugby spotlight will shine brightly on the EP Kings for most of the year, the Cell C Community Cup and the Varsity Cup have provided fans with an early taste of what promises to be fascinating season.
After two rounds in the Community Cup, success-hungry Despatch have sent out a strong signal that they could be the team to beat in this year’s tournament.
The 2013 champions have made a powerful start to the competition in Pool D and wins over Welkom Rovers and Wesbank have left Despatch with a full house of 10 points.
The PE Police team, who are being guided by head coach Zane Bosch and are making their debut in the competition, ignited their campaign with a valuable 15-8 win over Old Selbornians.
On the opening day Police lost against Rustenburg Impala in a hard-fought battle and today they are playing away against Springs.
The win over Old Selbornians was a major step forward for the Police side who will grow in confidence as the tournament progresses.
In the Varsity Cup, however, the Madibaz are facing a tough battle to make the semifinals after losing three of their opening four matches.
They are still clinging to some hope because two of their remaining three games are at home.
The Madibaz still have home games against Shimlas on Monday and Tuks in Port Elizabeth on March 23. Their remaining away game is against a struggling Maties on March 16 in Stellenbosch.
All eyes will be on Despatch today when they travel to Emalahleni to play a determined Shumba Ferros outfit in a pivotal clash.
Despatch are fortunate to be able to call on the experience of former Springbok Adri Geldenhuys who is masterminding their campaign in his role as head coach.
Former Springbok centre Danie Gerber has also been attending training sessions and the input of these legendary players will be invaluable as the tournament progresses.
Gerber led the legendary Despatch side of 1985 and 1988 to the title at the old Club Champs which was traditionally played over Easter in Durban at a packed Kings Park Stadium.
Few clubs in South Africa are so fortunate as to have input from the likes of Geldenhuys and Gerber.
A look back at the history of the Club Champs shows that the city of Durban played a vital role in its success right from the start, with Durban Collegians reaching the final of the inaugural tournament in 1975 when they lost to Maties.
Despatch are now hot favourites to progress to this year’s Easter play-offs in Rustenburg, which will feature the two highest-placed teams from each Pool from April 2 to 6.
Geldenhuys has made
it clear that his team will have to be at the top of their game to progress to the play-offs.
“A lot of hard work has been put in and execution will have to be close to perfect in this competition for Despatch to get satisfactory results.
“The cup is very tough and a quality competition, and only the very fit and tough will survive,” he warned.
Gerber, a fitness fanatic at the height of his own magnificent career, has praised the Despatch players for their conditioning.
“I have always been a fitness fanatic and it is great to see the conditioning of the Despatch players this season.”
From the outset SA Rugby chief executive Jurie Roux has made it clear that he wants the tournament to boost the profile of club rugby which is the lifeblood of the South African game.
“Club rugby is one of most important items on our agenda and we believe that the Community Cup will breathe new life into club rugby,” Roux said.
It will act as a catalyst for the revival of the club game at all levels across the country.
“Club rugby has suffered from a lack of exposure and sponsorship, since the advent of professionalism.
“What the Community Cup will do is give club players and coaches a competitive platform. The play-off component at the conclusion of the pool stages will revive the very special atmosphere of the old Easter Club Championships, which club people still speak about with nostalgia,” Roux said.
Last week Despatch had to show plenty of fight come back from 21-0 down after 20 minutes, but they rallied to score seven tries and 31 unanswered points in a 43-25 victory over Wesbank in front of 2 000 fans in Despatch.