Showdown in Bloemfontein – SuperSport Rugby Challenge Preview Week 8
The Central Section clash between Toyota Free State XV and Tafel Lager Griquas highlights another week of thrilling action in the SuperSport Rugby Challenge, while two new venues will continue the tournament’s aim of taking rugby to the people.
Week 8 of the competition will see the Cell C Sharks XV take the game to Piet Retief, where they will host the Leopards on Saturday.
And in Worcester, Esselen Park will not only welcome the Boland Cavaliers and DHL Western Province, but the rugby faithful will also pack the stands for a Gold Cup qualifier between local sides Young Hamiltons and Worcester Villagers.
The Cavaliers enjoy good support at this venue, but the defending champions have not tasted defeat yet and will be favourites to extend their winning streak in the competition.
All eyes will be on Friday’s clash in Bloemfontein, as both teams showed fantastic form so far this season. They last met in Rustenburg and on that occasion, a missed conversion stood between Tafel Lager Griquas and a great comeback win over the Toyota Free State XV.
The Kimberley side are by far the most attacking in their group, and have scored 36 tries already. They will be tested though, as the Free Staters have only conceded 18 tries in six matches at an average of three per match, way below the average of 10 tries scored per match.
The Toyota Free State XV pack had the upper hand in Rustenburg, which helped their loose trio combination to flourish, but when the Kimberlites managed to free up their backs, they started clawing their way back into the match, with try-scoring ace Enver Brandt pouncing at every opportunity.
Three more matches will be played on Friday. In Pretoria, the Vodacom Blue Bulls will host the Hino Valke in a match that they are expected to win. That said, the visitors are still gunning for that one big upset of the season and if Boom Prinsloo’s men are not on the ball at Loftus Versfeld, they could be in for a rude surprise. With the likes of Dries Swanepoel, JT Jackson, Andre Warner and Ruben van Heerden though, it will be a massive upset if the Hino Valke soar in this one.
Wits University will host the Xerox Golden Lions XV in their clash against Namibian visitors, Windhoek Draught Welwitschias. The home side will, like their neighbours from Pretoria, have all the odds in their favour, but will pay a dear price if they underestimate the Namibians, who have shown good growth as the tournament progress.
The Gauteng side have some exciting players that will be pushing for places in the upcoming Currie Cup season, no doubt.
Progress is also a key word for the Border Bulldogs, who will host the SWD Eagles in another humdinger at the BCM Stadium in East London. The visitors have won three from five and Border two from six, but the home side are improving all the time and the SWD Eagles will have to play mistake free rugby if they want to extend their winning ways. Their impressive backs, spearheaded by Leighton Eksteen, have been a handful this far.
Eksteen, who was their leading points’ scorer in last year’s competition with 61 points, slots in at flyhalf or fullback with ease. The former Outeniqua High School player has clocked more than 50 matches for his province and in 2016 represented the Southern Kings in Vodacom Super Rugby.
The 24-year-old Eksteen is certainly establishing himself as one of the leading players in the competition and if he is on song again could help secure a vital away win in the South Section.
The weekend’s fixtures are:
Friday, 8 June:
Xerox Golden Lions XV v Windhoek Draught Welwitschias
Venue: Wits University, Johannesburg
Referee: Stephan Geldenhuys
Vodacom Blue Bulls v Hino Valke
Venue: Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
Referee: Cwengile Jadezweni
Toyota Free State XV v Tafel Lager Griquas
Venue: Toyota Stadium, Bloemfontein
Referee: Jaco Pretorius
Border Bulldogs v SWD Eagles
Venue: BCM Stadium, East London
Referee: Paul Mente
Saturday, 9 June:
Boland Cavaliers v DHL Western Province
Venue: Esselyn Park, Worcester
Referee: AJ Jacobs
Young Hamiltons v Worcester Villagers (Gold Cup qualifier)
Venue: Esselen Park, Worcester
Referee: Divan Uys
TV: SS Play
Cell C Sharks XV v Leopards
Venue: Piet Retief Rugby Club, Piet Retief
Referee: Ricus van der Hoven