WITH the countdown dipping just under the 30-day mark, GAP Despatch and African Bombers are gearing themselves to make a major impact when the SA Rugby Union Community Cup kicks off next month.
As the Eastern Province Grand Challenge champions, Despatch will be carrying much of the region's hopes, but have a tough opener against National Club Championship winners Durban Rovers.
Compounding Despatch's difficulties is that the opening match will take place in Rovers' territory and yet the Nelson Mandela Bay side gave an excellent account of themselves when they met in last year's national club championship in Rustenburg.
Despatch, in fact, led Rovers 30-28 with only five minutes remaining before the Durban side pulled away to win 41-30. Despatch are renowned for their fighting qualities, so it won't be easy for Rovers.
As one of the wild cards, African Bombers will have no pressure on them and their inclusion affords them an excellent opportunity to prove a point or two. There will be passionate support for the Bombers when they turn out in Zwide and Griffons champions Welkom Rovers can expect a hot reception in their February 16 showdown.
SA Rugby Union chief executive Jurie Roux said this week that club rugby was on the brink of a new era.
The country's best non-university clubs are hard at work preparing for the new 20-team tournament which kicks off on February 16 and culminates in a week of finals in George over the Easter period.
The winners will play the FNB Varsity Cup champions for the overall national title on a date to be confirmed.
The Community Cup is identical in format to that of the Rugby World Cup, with the 20 teams divided into four pools of five. A total of 40 pool matches will be played over the five-week period from February 16 to March 16, with each club playing four matches – two home and two away.
The top two sides from each pool will then advance to the playoffs, which will be held at Outeniqua Park in George over the Easter Weekend. The quarter and semifinals will take place on March 28 and March 30 respectively, with the Shield, Bowl, Plate and Cup finals to be contested on Easter Monday, April 1.
The tournament replaces the National Club Championship which was consolidated into a period of one week. "The Community Cup has been on the drawing board for a number of years and now it's about to finally become a reality. There is a buzz around the country; competing clubs have been training hard...nd all are reporting large attendances at practices, which bodes well," Roux said.
The first round matches for February 16 are:
Pool A: College Rovers v GAP Despatch (Durban); Villagers Worcester v Sishen (Worcester)
Pool B: Pretoria Police v Durbanville-Bellville (Pretoria); African Bombers v Welkom Rovers (Port Elizabeth)
Pool C: Rustenburg Impala v Roodepoort (Rustenburg); Noordelikes v Raiders (Polokwane)
Pool D: Old Selbornians v Brakpan (East London); Roses United v White River (Wellington)