Provincial rugby action will burst into life this weekend with six fixtures in the new SuperSport Rugby Challenge being played across the country. The recently launched competition will see all 14 provinces and a team from Namibia battle it out in three regional pools, with the top eight sides continuing to contest for the trophy in a number of knock-out matches later in the tournament.
The exiting new innovation to the rugby calendar will also see the first of five Rugby Festivals being played in Port Elizabeth's Wolfson Stadium on Sunday, 23 April. This will include a local club match, which will be televised live, followed by two provincial matches in a day full of rugby action.
In Port Elizabeth, club sides African Bombers and PE Harlequins will contest for bragging rights and valuable league points in the Eastern Province Grand Challenge competition, with the winner playing in the Gold Cup later this year.
The provincial action opens up with a couple of mouth-watering clashes on Saturday.
In Pretoria, the Vodacom Blue Bulls will host the Steval Pumas at Loftus Versfeld in the first match of the tournament. The home team will be coached by the experienced Pote Human, fresh from leading Tuks to the title in the FNB Varsity Cup presented by Steinhoff International on Monday night, while the visitors will have new coach Brent Janse van Rensburg in charge for the first time. Kick-off is at 14h30.
Matches in Kempton Park and Welkom will commence shortly after, with the final match of the day, between the Cell C Sharks XV and Tafel Lager Griquas, kicks-off at 17h00 in Durban, as a curtain-raiser to the Vodacom Super Rugby match between the Cell C Sharks and the Rebels.
In Kempton Park, the Hino Valke welcomes the Windhoek Draught Welwitschias and in Welkom, the Down Touch Griffons host the Leopards. Both matches starts at 15h00.
The Namibians will be keen to start well and have an astute coach in Welshman, Lyn Jones, but the Valke will have some World Cup experience in their coaching booth with Rudy Joubert and will be prepared.
The match in Welkom will be a replay of last year’s Currie Cup First Division final, where the Down Touch Griffons edged the Leopards in Potchefstroom for the title, making for added spice to this highly competitive contest. The Leopards will have some early season continuity with a number of NWU-Pukke players joining coach Jonathan Mokuena’s team, while the men from Welkom’s astute coach, Oersond Gorgonzola, will he asking his troops to follow the same script from last year.
The Cell C Sharks XV boast an explosive backline in Durban, with the likes of Odwa Ndungane, S’bura Sithole, Johan Deysel and Sbu Nkosi packing incredible firepower. The vastly experienced coaching staff of Paul Anthony and Ricardo Loubscher will also make sure the Durbanites play to their strength.
Tafel Lager Griquas have the very versatile and well-travelled George Whitehead debuting at flyhalf and with Koch Marx and Tertius Kruger also new in the backline, coach Peter Engledow will have to find a way to outfox the experience of the home side.
The Sunday festival will be kicked off by two old club rivals, African Bombers and PE Harlequins, before some serious provincial action will grab the attention of rugby fans.
Border coach David Dobela’s attacking philosophy is well-known and if his team play according to plan, will test the defensive structures of Boland to the fullest. The visitors have a new coach in Randall Modiba and his side’s mental preparation will be a huge factor in this match.
The main attraction have all the makings of topping a spectacular start to the tournament. The EP Kings will not be taken for granted and their coach, Robbi Kempson, have shown the knack to unearth emerging talents year after year. They do face a formidable DHL Western Province outfit though, with coach John Dobson bringing an invigorating approach to how rugby should be played and enjoyed.
• Tickets for the Rugby Festival in Port Elizabeth will be distributed by SuperSport in the communities around the stadium, while tickets will be available at the venue on Sunday, free of charge.