There will be plenty of history at stake at Outeniqua Park in George on Monday when two former Springbok team-mates come up against each other in the coaches’ box as Jonsson College Rovers and GAP Despatch slug it out to become the inaugural winners of the Cell C Community Cup.
Rovers coach Robert du Preez and Despatch’s Adri Geldenhuys played together for the Springboks at scrumhalf and lock respectively when South Africa returned from isolation in a Test against New Zealand in 1992.
A third member of that isolation-ending Springbok team, legendary centre Danie Gerber, will also be present on the sidelines on Monday, having led Despatch to two Easter club championship titles in 1985 and 1988 – both against Tukkies.
And in one of those rare twists of history, Du Preez wore the No 9 jersey for Tukkies in the second match 25 years ago, when Gerber’s Despatch held out for a famous 13-12 win over a side that boasted, amongst others, Bok great Naas Botha as Du Preez’s halfback partner.
“Adri is just like me. He doesn’t like to lose,” said Du Preez at the team’s hotel on Sunday. “When we played together for the Blue Bulls and later for South Africa, we were completely committed to winning. It’s amazing that, exactly 25 years later, we’re all involved in this historic match at club level, where it all started for both of us.”
Du Preez said it was a “big relief” that Rovers had progressed to the final. “Now it’s all about who has the most left in the tank,” he said. “Our lesson against Brakpan is that you can take nothing for granted and that you have to work for every point. We have to play Test rugby to win this.”
Geldenhuys said a victory for Despatch would not only mean a lot to the team, but also to the town that, during the mid-1980s, with Gerber at the helm, became a household name in South African rugby. “For us it would be a case of ‘mission accomplished’,” he said. “We started working on 15 November and I always believed we could make the final. We’ve cleared all the hurdles and now it’s just one to go.
“Despatch were once on the rugby map and then it slipped off. Now is our chance to put it back on there.”
Intriguingly, the Cup final, which will be televised live on Supersport, is a repeat of the opening match of the tournament in Durban, when Rovers ran out comfortable 38-17 winners on their home ground.
But a neutral field and persistent rain has set up a final which is too close to call. Rovers, the country’s number-one open club and aiming for an unprecedented 86th victory in 90 matches dating back five seasons, have been decimated by injury and had to rely on an injury-time try to beat East Rand Cranes Brakpan 29-25 in Saturday’s first semi-final.
Despatch, meanwhile, have hit good form after a slow start to the tournament, which saw them having to beat SK Walmers in Cape Town in their final pool match to progress. They too needed a last-gasp score, this time a snap drop goal from scrumhalf Marlon Lewis, to squeeze past Rustenburg Impala 21-20 in Saturday’s second semi-final.
There is plenty at stake for the winners: not only will they become the first team to hold aloft the priceless Gold Cup, but they will also win an automatic invitation to play in the 2014 Cell C Community Cup instead of having to qualify through their provincial premier league.
Community Cup Easter Championship fixtures (Outeniqua Park, George. All games live on SuperSport 1):
Monday, 1 April:
08h30: Match 49 – 7th/8th place playoff – Roodepoort vs Pacaltsdorp Evergreens
10h30: Match 50 – 5th/6th place playoff – Pretoria Police vs Durbanville-Bellville
12h30: Match 51 – 3rd/4th place playoff (bronze medal match) – Brakpan vs Rustenburg Impala
14h30: Match 52 – Cup Final – Jonsson College Rovers vs GAP Despatch