The club rugby spotlight will fall firmly on Durban on Friday when national club champions Jonsson College Rovers will look to extend an incredible winning streak when they face resurgent arch-rivals Acer Durban Collegians in a highly-anticipated KZN Fidelity Security Premier Division match (Kings Park 10, kick-off 20h00).
Rovers are not only the undisputed kings of KZN club rugby, having won the historic Moor Cup league title for the past five years, but also the most successful club in South Africa in recent years.
Since April 24, 2009, coach Brad McLeod-Henderson and his all-conquering side have won 43 of the 44 competitive matches they have played, their only defeat coming at the hands of Western Province heavyweights Hamilton exactly 20 months ago today, in the semi-finals of that year’s national club championships. Rovers reached the national finals in 2006 and 2008 – losing both times to Pukke – before a third tilt at the title last year ended in triumph when they beat Maties 24-15 at the Danie Craven Stadium in Stellenbosch.
Since their 2009 defeat to Hammies, Rovers are undefeated in 27 matches, which includes their first five outings of the 2011 league season. But they find themselves in an unaccustomed second place on the table, trailing pace-setters Durban Collegians on points difference.
In terms of titles won, Collegians are historically by far the most successful club in KZN club rugby. Under veteran coach Ray van Noordwyk, currently in his third stint as Collegians coach, the team made the 2005 national club championship semi-finals before going through a lean period by their standards.
“Last year we had a very good under-20 team and a lot of those youngsters have now come through into the senior team,” said Van Noordwyk, who first started coaching the Durban team in 1992. “It’s a very young and exciting side, but the big question is, do they have the experience to beat Rovers?”
“Friday’s game is almost like a Sharks Currie Cup trial. Twenty of the 22 players who played for the Sharks XV in the Vodacom Cup semifinals will be in action. We have such a good working relationship with the KZNRU and (Sharks coach) John Plumtree and club rugby in Durban is the stronger for it. They must be commended for releasing their players to play for their clubs because it just boosts everyone around them. I wish all of the other unions would do the same.”
Van Noordwyk, who has won the KZN title with Collegians seven times, has been around long enough to know that making predictions is a risky business, but he acknowledges that the winner of Friday’s match will have the momentum going into the second round of the league.
“It’s an incredible rivalry between Collegians and Rovers,” he said. “Last year we lost 13-12 and that decided the league, whereas the year before it went down to points difference.
“Rovers have not been in the best of form this year but they know how to win the big games and that’s the mark of a quality team. My job is to get my boys to believe they can do the same. We need to turn that 13-12 defeat into a 13-12 victory.”
In other action from around the country, another four clubs dropped out of the National Club Championships qualifying race, while the battle for one of the 16 available slots is reaching its climax in a number of provinces.
There are currently 126 clubs still in contention for the season-ending tournament, which takes place from 17-23 September in Stellenbosch.
White River beat Barberton in a top-of-the-table clash in the Mpumalanga Lowveld League, which now splits into a top five and bottom four for the second round, leaving Riverside, Ngodwana, Lydenburg and Komatipoort out of title contention.
In the Boland Premier League, champions Roses United and perennial runners-up Wesbank face off in Wellington on Saturday, with the winner likely to be confirmed as that province’s club championships representative.
Things are just as close in the Western Province Super League A, where champions Maties’ nailbiting 29-28 win over Hamilton leaves the Green Point team, the 2009 national champions, as the only side with a mathematical chance of overtaking the students at the top of the log.
The winner of the first round qualifies for Club Champs, and Hammies have been set the stiff but not unreachable target of picking up 18 points from their last four games if they are to pip Maties at the qualifying post.
Elsewhere, Springs remain the team to beat in the Valke Peregrine League, notching a 56-18 win over Kempton Wolwe, while Progress and Evergreens remain locked in a two-way race for Club Champs qualification in the SWD Premier League.
Middelburg gained the upper hand in the Mpumalanga Hoëveld-Koolveld League when they overcame rivals Witbank Ferros 26-20, while Klerksdorp and Potch Dorp continued their winning ways in the Leopards’ Neser A league.
There were big wins for Kuruman, Ammosal and Sishen on the opening weekend of the Griqualand West Super League, while UJ flexed their muscles in the Golden Lions’ Pirates Grand Challenge when they beat fellow students Wits 64-37.
Shimlas and Old Greys look set to battle it out once again in the Free State First Division after further wins over Police and CUT Ixias respectively, while newcomers African Bombers’ impressive form in the Eastern Province Grand Challenge remains the big talking point in the Eastern Cape following their 51-0 win over Suburban.
Border top dogs Fort Hare and Old Selbornian played themselves to a 20-20 standstill, allowing Winter Rose to climb to the top of the Super League following their 39-24 win over Cambridge, while up north Tuks remain the team to beat in the Blue Bulls Carlton League.
Tale of the tape – Jonsson College Rovers’ record since Apr 24, 2009:
2009 – won 11/11 in KZN Premier Division
2009 – won 3/3 in KZN Murray Cup knockout competition
2009 – won 2/3 in National Club Championships (lost in semi-finals)
2010 – won 14/14 in KZN Premier Division
2010 – won 4/4 in KZN Castle Murray Cup
2010 – won 4/4 in National Club Championships
2011 – won 5/5 in KZN Premier Division
Played: 44, Won 43, Lost 1 (all competitions, excluding friendlies)
Played: 37, Won 37, Lost 0 (all KZN competitions)
Current winning streak (all competitions, excluding friendlies): 27