A number of big sides could be eliminated early as the pool stage reaches a decisive point in round three of the Gold Cup on Saturday.
Durbanville-Bellville, who won the cup in 2015, and 2017 finalists College Rovers, are among the big guns who face early elimination after following up comfortable opening-weekend wins with narrow defeats in last weekend’s second round, to Northam Rhinos (37-33) and Gardens (30-28) respectively.
The Rustenburg Impala, champions in 2014 and 2016, might have found themselves in the same boat had they not recovered from a 15-point half-time deficit to run out 38-36 victors at home over Swallows.
In Pool B, Gardens’ 19-14 opening-day defeat to Secunda was all but forgotten in Uitenhage when the EP champions kicked a late penalty to sink Rovers, the KZN champions, who had beaten wildcards East Rand United in round one. And in the pool’s other match, East Rand United bounced back from their defeat in Durban to beat Secunda 34-22 in Reiger Park, leaving all four sides with one win apiece.
Saturday’s matches, therefore, are effectively knockout affairs as East Rand United host Gardens and Rovers travel to Secunda.
The same scenario will play out in Pool A, with SWD champions Progress George and Boland title-holders Villagers Worcester still in playoff contention.
Progress must, however, undertake an arduous journey by plane and bus from George to Setaria, near Thabazimbi, to face Limpopo champions Rhinos, whose win over Durbell in Cape Town has given the Platinum miners the self-belief that they are not merely making up the numbers this year.
Durbell have a much shorter away journey this weekend but it is even tougher than that of their Western Cape neighbours: they must travel up the N1 to Worcester, where another 10,000-plus crowd awaits them at Boland Park, where victory for the home side may yet see them into a first-ever Gold Cup playoff match.
Pools C and D are no less intriguing, with a number of unfancied teams having also suddenly sniffed the opportunity to sneak into the last eight.
In Pool C, Free State clubs Bloemfontein Police and Welkom host Naka Bulls and Sishen respectively, with defeat for any club likely to signal the end of their campaign.
And in Pool D, bottom-placed Springs will need a full haul of five points against Impala at Olympia Park in Ekurhuleni if they are to have any chance of making the playoffs. In the other match, Roodepoort must travel to Mdantsane outside East London to face up to Swallows.
Round 3 fixtures (all matches to kick off at 4pm):
Platinum Rhinos vs George (Setaria Recreation Club, Limpopo)
Villagers Worcester vs Durbanville-Bellville(Boland Park, Worcester)
East Rand United vs Gardens (The Graveyard, Reigerpark)
Secunda vs College Rovers (Sasol Recreation Club, Secunda)
Welkom vs Sishen (Griffons B field, Welkom)
Bloemfontein Police vs Naka Bulls (Bobbies Park, Bloemfontein)
Swallows vs Roodepoort (NU1 Stadium, Mdantsane)
Springs vs Rustenburg Impala (Olympia Park, Springs)
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