Tuks' Cup dream stays alive
Wesley Dunlop (Gallo Images)
Cape Town - FNB Tuks picked up the first of what they hope will be three pieces of silverware this season when they exacted revenge on fellow Varsity Cup side Tshwane University of Technology in a Blue Bulls Carlton League match played at the LC de Villiers Stadium in Pretoria.
Tuks' reward for their 50-24 victory was retention of the coveted Lucas Strachan Shield, presented annually to the team topping of the log after the first round of league action.
The 'LC' was the venue for Tuks' disappointing loss to UCT in the Varsity Cup final but since then coach Blikkies Groenewald's side have signalled their intent by notching six consecutive bonus-point victories in the Carlton, against Harlequins, Police, Centurion, Naka Bulls, Silver Valke and TUT, for a full house of 30 points.
At the halfway stage (the league resumes on 9 July), Tuks are odds-on favourites to retain their Carlton title and also qualify to represent the Blue Bulls at the National Club Championships - a tournament they have not won since 2003, when they beat Pukke 46-25. Tuks currently enjoy a six-point lead over Harlequins (24), with the Pretoria Bobbies (19) five points further back in third.
"I'm very proud of the team," said Groenewald. "We made mistakes but we also showed what a classy side we are and we are determined to retain the Carlton Cup. This was the first time in three games that we've been able to beat TUT (Tuks lost 46-34 in the second round of the Varsity Cup) and so it was also nice to score 50 points against them."
Flanker Louis van Biljon was Tuks' man-of-the-match in their seven-try victory but, as with all good Tuks sides down the years, they have a flyhalf in Wesley Dunlop who has the kicking ability and big-match temperament to carry them to what Groenewald hopes will be a first Club Champs title in eight years.
Dunlop, the second-highest point-scorer in the Varsity Cup behind UCT's Demetri Catrakilis, kicked four conversions and two penalties in the TUT victory. Nine months ago, he also booted 14 points in College Rovers' 24-15 Club Champs final victory over Maties, and Tuks supporters will be hoping that the former Durbanite will be able to make it two in a row on the national stage should their team make it that far.
In other news from around the country, Boland Premier League log leaders Wesbank picked up five points in their 40-3 away win over Abbotsdale. The Malmesbury club's nearest rivals, defending champions Roses United, shrugged off their narrow defeat to Darling with an equally tight 35-32 win over Ceres to keep the pressure on Wesbank.
Winter Rose's remain top of the Border Super League thanks to a 21-19 victory over second-placed Buffalo, but third-placed Fort Hare's 26-3 win against Berlin Tigers and fourth-placed East London Police's 41-20 thrashing of Swallows has ensured an exciting four-way tussle for league honours in the coming weeks.
Unbeaten UJ remain top of the Golden Lions' Pirates Grand Challenge and Predator leagues following their 54-21 win over fellow Varsity Cup side Pukke in Potchefstroom. Raiders are emerging from the pack as the top non-university club and their astounding 183-0 win over Vaal Reefs has given the Johannesburg-based club plenty of confidence going into the business end of the season.
After a slow start to their KZN Fidelity Security Moor Cup title defence, national club champions College Rovers have clicked into high gear and are favourites to win the Premier Division for a sixth year running. Rovers beat Zululand Rhinos 73-5 to register their 47th win from 48 matches in all competitions dating back to April 2009.
Rovers have now won 41 matches on the trot in all KZN league and cup tournaments, and 31 games in a row in all competitions, including national club championships. Their last defeat was against Hamiltons in the 2009 Club Champs semi-finals, with Hammies going on to win the title.
Vryburg swapped places with Klerksdorp at the top of the Leopards' Neser A league thanks to a hard-fought 12-3 win over Lichtenburg, while Middelburg won the Mpumalanga Hoëveld-Koolveld heavyweight battle 29-18 against Sasol Secunda.
Nelspruit picked up an invaluable 48-31 victory against Belfast in Mpumalanga's Lowveld league, but unbeaten White River remain favourites to represent the region against the Hoëveld-Koolveld winner in the two-legged Mpumalanga final, most likely Middelburg.
Club Champs qualifiers Progress made it 12 from 13 in the SWD Premier League but they were made to work hard for a 6-3 victory over second-from-bottom Silver Stars. Benoni scraped home in similar fashion in the Valke Peregrine Super League when they edged Vereeniging 5-3, while title favourite Springs produced an impressive display in thrashing fast-improving NWU Vaal Pukke 58-9.
SK Walmers increased their lead at the top of the WP Super League A to five points thanks to a nailbiting 13-12 away win against third-placed Durbanville-Bellville. The Bo-Kaap side are on a winning streak and it is quite possible for them to build up as much as a 15-point cushion over Maties (who have a game in hand) by the time the students resume their league campaign on 23 July.
With 80 days to the kick-off of the 2011 Club Champs in Stellenbosch, four of the 14 automatic qualifiers have already been confirmed: Maties (WP), Progress (SWD), Shimlas (Free State) and Roses United (Boland).