Well, it’s very much the “bastard stepchild” competition of the SA Rugby season, but the Vodacom Cup remains interesting nonetheless, as it provides an intriguing glimpse at the next tier of talent within the game in the Republic. 12 of the 14 teams had their opening hit-out this weekend, with only WP and the Lions yet to get onto the park.
The competition this year is divided into two sections; the South section comprises all the coastal teams, plus Free State, while the North sections contains the rest of the traditional “boerewors brigade”. It’s a little tricky to work out what the competition format is, since SARU haven’t bothered to announce it to anyone in the media, but it would appear that the top two teams in each section would progress to the semis, with a final thereafter. As was the case last year, there’ll be a cool Million Zuid Afrikaanse Rond on offer for the team who lifts the trophy.
There were a number of lob-sided contests in the South pool, with the Sharks XV, SWD Eagles and Free State racking up big, bonus-point wins, over Boland, the not-so-mighty Elephants and the Border Bulldogs respectively. Of those, the Sharks XV were the only team to win away, so I guess that would make them the pace-setters. In the other pool, Griquas stuffed the hapless Valke, the Bulls narrowly beat the Griffons away and the Leopards beat the Pumas in a dull Highveldt derby.
It’s always interesting to have a look at some of the names that pop up in these teams. Griquas in particular are going to be hard to stop as they have seemingly assembled a crack squad hell-bent on Vdacom Cup glory. Erm. But anyway, they boast a raft of Currie Cup stars, including two of the most promising wingers on display last year, Dewald Pretorius and Trompie Nontshinga. Naas Olivier and Lions reject Thabang Molefe are also in the mix for them this season – hell, even old Sean Plaatjes is in Kimberley this year. I note that former Cheetahs number 8 Ryno van der Merwe has also slipped back quietly – he is captaining SWD these days. On a sadder note, it seems Dumi Matyeshana has given up on the Sharks and is back with the Border Bulldogs this season.
There are a number of former Sharks juniors scattered across the various teams too. Ignus Prinsloo is a 1.9m, 105kg flyhalf of whom I expected much. He has, alas, headed back to George, which is where he came from anyway. Young Reg Muller continues to add just a little class to an otherwise poor Valke outfit, although Jody Jenneker seems to have disappeared entirely. Rudi Mathee is on the blindside flank for the Leopards, while another former junior Sharks flyhalf, Tiaan Marx, is with the Pumas.
Looking forward to round 2 and the big match will be Free State against the Sharks XV in the bustling metropolis of Petrusburg (population about 12 and a half). Both sides will be forced to make some changes; the Sharks XV have lost Justin Downey, while their flat-eared counterparts will need to make do without Kabamba Floors and Francois Uys. All three players have been called up for Super 14 tour duty. The Sharks XV will be spoiled for choice when it comes to filling Downey’s spot, particularly if Warren Whitely is shifted to the openside, allowing Mike Rhodes to come in at number 8. That will open up a spot in the squad for the gargantuan ex-Valke lock Ruahan van Jaarsveld, who will be keen to make his presence known. Speaking of former Valke, though (and there are a fair few floating around, with both Len Olivier and Frik Venter already in the squad) there’s always the possibility of bringing Thabo Mamojele into the fray.
A mouth-watering contest awaits.Tweet