College Rovers, the 2010 National Club Champions and one of the country’s leading non-university clubs, will be aiming for a seventh KZN Moor Cup title in a row when they begin their campaign on Saturday away to UKZN Pietermaritzburg (k/o 15h30).
The league-opener in the KZN capital is just one of a number of big Saturday-afternoon clashes around SA as the club season swings into gear. Up north, Pretoria Police host Brakpan in the pre-season Assupol Super Club Series final.
Down south, SA’s two oldest clubs, Hamilton (est. 1875) and Villager (est. 1876) face off at Brookside in Cape Town (k/o 16h00) in 137th edition of their traditional derby – the oldest of its kind in South African rugby.
Rovers might have surrendered their national title with a 27-26 defeat to UJ in the Club Champs semi-finals last September, but the club, situated in Durban’s Kings Park precinct, nevertheless begin their 2012 campaign defending a remarkable win-loss record.
Since April 2009, Rovers have played 60 competitive matches and have lost only twice – both times in Club Champs semi-finals (to eventual champions Hamilton in 2009 & to UJ last year). Victory over Durban Collegians in the 2011 KZN Murray Cup final was also Rovers’ 50th in a row against KZN opposition, coming just weeks before defeat to UJ ended their 42-match unbeaten streak against all comers.
The Moor Cup trophy has a remarkable history, having first been presented to a Colonials team following a match in Kimberley in 1876. Undecided about who would look after the cup, a raffle was held amongst the team, with George Moor eventually taking it back to the then-Natal colony.
The trophy then vanished for 81 years before a mystery donor handed the unengraved and untitled piece of silverware to Vic King, the Maritzburg Sub-Union president, in 1957. It was duly named the Moor Cup and first played for in 1958, with Rovers’ arch-rivals, Durban Collegians, having won it on 26 occasions, including 17 years in a row from 1971-87.
“Every year we have an exodus of players to Varsity Cup teams. Since 2010 we’ve lost more than 20 players to the likes of Tuks, UJ and NMMU,” said Rovers’ captain Chris Micklewood, 25, the former KZN & SA Schools fullback who had a stint with Boland in 2010.
“The likes of Wesley Dunlop, Sabelo Nhlapo, Daniel Adongo and Jerome Pretorius played for Tuks last week, which is good exposure for them, but what it means is that the club basically has to start from scratch ever year and build a new team.”
Micklewood, who also played as a utility back for Newcastle Falcons in the English Premiership in 2009/10, admitted that Rovers’ dominance of KZN club rugby, while impressive, was not necessarily an ideal situation. “Every player wants competitive games and it’s so important that you have competitiveness and strength-versus-strength in provincial leagues,” he said.
“The Varsity Cup has done wonders for university sides and what we really hope for now is a similar national tournament for open clubs. It will raise the standard of club rugby in general, give the guys something to play for, and help us hang onto our players so that we can build a team.”
In other results from around the country, Despatch are the new Eastern Cape Super 12 champions after coming back from 20-0 behind to beat title-holders Port Elizabeth Police 39-28 at Uitenhage’s Central Ground on Saturday, in a final played in pouring rain. East London Police beat PE Harlequins 41-0 in the third-place play-off.
In another pre-season cross-border tournament between the top Free State and Griffons clubs, Welkom Rovers won the Free State Uitdaagbeker with a 44-16 win over Bloemfontein Police in the final.
In the Boland Premier League, newcomers Vredenburg suffered their first defeat of the season, going down 39-18 to new log leaders Robertson.
In the SWD Premier League, Bridgton remain the only unbeaten side after five rounds following an 8-3 win over George. Closest rivals Evergreens lost their first game of the year, going down 22-20 away to Blanco.
Apart from the KZN Moor Cup, provincial leagues action also gets underway this week in Eastern Province and Griffons, with the majority of provinces traditionally kicking off their league programmes the week after Easter.