Featuring two rising stars
Half of the Vodacom Cup fixtures this week will take place at venues that can be described as "off the beaten track", as South Africa's premier development competition continues to spread its wings.
Cradock's Rovers Field, the DP de Villiers Stadium in Sasolburg, Leeudoring Club in Leeudoringstad and the Bill Jardine Stadium in Industria, Johannesburg, will all host matches this weekend as the competition passes the halfway mark of the group phase.
The pick of the fixtures in the North Section is on Friday in Nelspruit, where the Pumas will host Griquas at the Mbombela Stadium.
These are the only two unbeaten teams left in this section and the side from Kimberley will be looking for revenge after losing this fixture at home last year to the eventual runners up.
Also in the North Section, the Falcons and Limpopo Blue Bulls will be looking for their first win of 2014 when they take on each other in Sasolburg on Saturday, while interest should be high for the Leopards XV's home game in Leeudoringstad against the Blue Bulls.
The two top teams in the South Section also take on each other this weekend when the Sharks XV host the SWD Eagles in Durban on Saturday.
The KwaZulu-Natalians are unbeaten, but following a defeat in the opening round, Bevin Fortuin's Eagles side have recorded two solid victories and are looking strong.
The EP Kings, currently lying fifth in the South Section, will be keen to get back to winning ways and not lose touch with the front runners when they host the third-placed Free State XV in Cradock.
And almost 300km south east, in East London on Friday, the Border Bulldogs will face Western Province without one of our first featured rising stars, Sikhumbuzo Notshe, who has joined the Stormers on tour in Australia.
* Each week we will feature emerging young players from the North and the South Sections who are making their way up the ladder.
This week we look at two hard-working loose forwards, Thabo Mabuza (Golden Lions) and Teboho 'Oupa' Mohoje (Free State XV).
Vodacom Cup rising star (No 7) – Thabo Mabuza (Golden Lions):
If ever a player can be classified as "coming through the ranks", it's the Golden Lions' 20-year-old openside flank Thabo Mabuza.
Mabuza was born in Mpumalanga and attended primary school in White River before moving west, where he matriculated at Centurion High School.
He quickly established himself in the Blue Bulls' structures and represented the province at the Grant Khomo Week for Under-16 teams in Upington in 2010, where he was identified and subsequently invited to take part in SARU's Under-16 High Performance and Elite Squads.
At 1.82m and 90kg, Mabuza is a hard-working flank who is similar in build to Heinrich Brüssow and Deon Stegmann.
He played for the Blue Bulls in the Under-18 Craven Weeks in 2011 and 2012 and made the SA Schools team on both occasions. In 2012, he started in all three of the SA Schools team's matches in the triangular series against France, Wales and England.
Last year, he moved south to the Golden Lions and was one of the star performers in their Under-19 team which finished runners up behind the Blue Bulls in the U19 provincial competition. Mabuza made his senior provincial debut for the Golden Lions in the Vodacom Cup earlier this month and celebrated by scoring both their tries in a narrow win over the Leopards XV in Potchefstroom.
Now a member of wider Junior Springbok training squad, Mabuza has a chance to further his career climbing the rugby ladder. But first, he's got to learn the tricks of the trade in the Vodacom Cup.
Vodacom Cup Rising Star (No 8) – Teboho Mohoje (Free State XV):
Teboho Mohoje is already in his third season of Vodacom Cup rugby, but if his name doesn't sound familiar, it's probably because he is better known as 'Oupa' – a curious nickname for someone who is not even 24 yet.
Mohoje is a big guy and at 1.93m tall and close to 110kg, he is a more than viable option at blindside flank and lock – two positions he's already played at Vodacom Cup and Currie Cup level.
Born in QwaQwa on 3 August 1990, Mohoje moved to Bloemfontein where he finished school at Louis Botha Technical High School. He progressed through the Free State ranks, playing in the U18 Academy week and the Craven Week before making his Shimlas debut in the FNB Varsity Cup in 2011. Later that year he also represented the Cheetah Under-21 team.
Mohoje made his Vodacom Cup debut in 2012, on loan from Free State for the Griffons, and last year he played all 11 Currie Cup matches for the Free State Cheetahs, including coming on as lock replacement in the semi-final against the Sharks in Durban.
But it was in the blue jersey of the University of the Free State where Mohoje made big strides, as a player and a leader. He captained Shimlas last year and was also named as the Varsity Cup Player that Rocks for 2013 following a dominant season.
With the 2014 Varsity Cup now done and dusted, Mohoje is ready to keep his development going in the Vodacom Cup as the Free State XV aim to build on an impressive start to the competition.
Round Four fixtures:
Friday, March 28
Border Bulldogs v Western Province
Venue: Buffalo City Stadium, East London
Referee: Christie du Preez
Pumas v Griquas
Venue: Mbombela Stadium, Nelspruit
Referee: Pro Legoete
Saturday, March 29
Sharks XV v SWD Eagles
Venue: Kings Park, Durban
Referee: Quinton Immelman
Falcons v Limpopo Blue Bulls
Venue: DP de Villiers Stadium, Sasolburg
Referee: Archie Sehlako
Leopards XV v Blue Bulls
Venue: Leeudoring Club, Leeudoringstad
Referee: Tahla Ntshakaza
EP Kings v Free State XV
Venue: Rovers Field, Cradock
Referee: Jaco van Heerden
Golden Lions v Griffons
Venue: Bill Jardine Stadium, Johannesburg
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen
Simba XV v Boland Cavaliers
Venue: City Park, Cape Town
Referee: Cwengile Jadezweni