Cape Town - Any slip-ups this weekend will be punished with elimination when the four Vodacom Cup quarter-finals take place in Nelspruit, Durban, Bloemfontein and Kimberley on Friday and Saturday. Of the eight teams in the quarter-finals, six are back from 2013, while two - the SWD Eagles and Free State XV - did not make it to the playoffs last year.
In fact, the Eagles are in the quarter-finals for only the second time since the Vodacom Cup started in 1998. They made the top eight in 2009 and also played in the semi-finals in the inaugural season of this competition.
And for the Sharks XV, Pumas, Western Province, Blue Bulls, Griquas and Golden Lions, this will be the fourth consecutive season that they have reached the quarter-finals.
The first match of the weekend is a replay of one of the 2013 quarter-finals. The defending Vodacom Cup champions, the Golden Lions, will travel to Durban to face South Section table-toppers, the Sharks XV, at 15:00 on Friday afternoon at Kings Park.
The Sharks won their first six pool matches before coming unstuck against the EP Kings in Durban last weekend, which would serve as a timely wake-up call before the knock-out phase of the competition started.
Last year, the team from Johannesburg also ended fourth on the North Section log. They proceeded to the final against the Steval Pumas after beating the Sharks XV in Durban (42-25) and Western Province in Johannesburg (44-25).
The Pumas finished the pool phase of the competition as the only unbeaten team and deservedly topped the North Section log. They host Western Province, champions in 2012, in the second quarter-final, at the Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit on Friday evening at 19:10.
Western Province also saw the red flag raised last weekend when they went down to the SWD Eagles in George. It was only the Capetonians’ second defeat of the season and they will travel to Nelspruit knowing full well a similar performance will see them eliminated from the competition.
Both of Saturday’s matches, in Bloemfontein and Kimberley, are scheduled for a 15:00 kick-off.
Griquas, four-time Vodacom Cup champions, will host third-placed South Section side, the high-flying Eagles, at GWK Park in Kimberley. It will be a tough task for the side from George, who are playing in their first Vodacom Cup knock-out round since 2009.
The team from the Northern Cape have hosted a quarter-final every season since 2010, with last year being the exception. After the Golden Lions, who have won the competition five times, Griquas are the most successful Vodacom Cup team in history.
The fourth quarter-final is between the two teams that contested the 2010 final when the Free State XV take on the Blue Bulls at the Free State Stadium in Bloemfontein.
The team from Pretoria have won the Vodacom Cup three times, the last being four years ago when they beat the Free Staters in a nail-biter in Pretoria, winning the match thanks to an injury-time drop-goal by Francois Brummer.
This time however the Free State XV have home ground advantage, where they have lost only once this season, against the Sharks XV.
Apart from the Sharks with one defeat, the three other teams in the quarter-finals from the South Section, the Free State XV, SWD Eagles and Western Province, have all lost only twice.
The North Section was much more “balanced”. The Pumas were unbeaten, followed by Griquas, who lost only once, the Blue Bulls, who lost two and the Golden Lions, who lost three of their seven pool matches.
Vodacom Cup - Historic performances
Best performance: Runners-up in 2013
Performance in 2013: Runners-up (lost to Golden Lions in the Final, 42-28)
Best performance: Runners-up in 2006
Performance in 2013: Lost in quarter-finals (42-25 to Golden Lions)
Best performance: Champions in 1998, 2005, 2007 and 2009
Performance in 2013: Lost in quarter-finals (21-13 to DHL WP)
Free State XV
Best performance: Champions in 2000
Performance in 2013: 5th in South Section
Best performance: Champions in 2001, 2008 and 2010
Performance in 2013: Lost in quarter-finals (34-31 to EP Kings)
Best performance: Lost in semi-finals, 1998
Performance in 2013: 6th in South Section
Best performance: Champions in 1999, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2013
Performance in 2013: Champions (beat Steval Pumas in the Final, 42-28)
Best performance: Champions in 2012
Performance in 2013: Lost in semi-finals (44-25 to Golden Lions)
Friday, May 2
Sharks XV v Golden Lions - 15:00
Referee: Francois Pretorius
Pumas v Western Province - 19:10
Referee: Stephan Geldenhuys
Saturday, May 3
Free State XV v Blue Bulls - 15:00
Referee: Rodney Boneparte
Griquas v SWD Eagles - 15:00
Referee: Christie du Preez
Vodacom Cup Previous Winners:
1999: Golden Lions
2000: Free State Cheetahs
2001: Blue Bulls
2002: Golden Lions
2003: Golden Lions
2004: Golden Lions
2008: Blue Bulls
2010: Blue Bulls
2011: Pampas XV
2012: Western Province
2013: Golden Lions