The North Section is heading towards a humdinger
Although the eight teams that will progress to the Vodacom Cup quarterfinals are basically determined, a lot can still happen in terms of finishing in the top two positions in both sections.
The North Section is heading towards a humdinger, with five teams still in the hunt to reach the playoffs. Only the Pumas, runners up in 2013, are guaranteed of a place in the quarterfinals and only a disaster will see them finish lower than in top spot.
Looking at the various permutations in this section, the Pumas (currently first on the log on 27 points) need one log point from their match against the Golden Lions at Alberton Rugby Club on Saturday afternoon to ensure they finish top of the pool.
For the defending champion Golden Lions (fourth on 19 points, points’ difference of +99), a bonus-point victory in this rematch of the 2013 final will be enough to reach the playoffs yet again, but if they fail to do that, the Leopards XV (fifth on 18 points, PD +73) can still overtake them.
The Leopards XV host Griquas (second on 22 points, PD +101) in Klerksdorp on Saturday afternoon in a rematch of the 2005 final, which was when the team from the Northern Cape clinched one of their four Vodacom Cup titles.
The Blue Bulls (third on 21 points, PD +88) will be aiming for a big win over the last-placed Limpopo Blue Bulls in Pretoria on Friday afternoon, where they should qualify for the playoffs.
A very big victory over their northern neighbours could still see the team from Pretoria sneak into the top two on the log, should Griquas not win with a bonus point. That could see the Blue Bulls overtake the side from Kimberley on points difference and earn hosting rights in the quarterfinal round.
In the only other North Section pool match, only pride is at stake when the Falcons host the Griffons in Kempton Park on Friday afternoon.
In the South Section, the top four will consist of the Sharks, Western Province, SWD Eagles and the Free State XV, but the order in which they finish can still change. As it stands, the KwaZulu-Natalians can't finish lower than second, meaning they will host one of the quarterfinals.
The Sharks XV (currently first on the log on 27 points) host the EP Kings in Durban on Friday afternoon as a curtain-raiser to their Super Rugby clash later that evening. Although the team from Port Elizabeth are fifth on the log, they can't make the quarterfinals anymore.
Two log points from this match will be enough for the KwaZulu-Natalians to secure first place on the South Section log.
At this stage, it looks like the winner of the match between the second-placed Western Province (23 points) and third-placed SWD Eagles (21 points) will also earn hosting rights in the quarterfinals. This encounter takes place in George on Friday evening.
However, the Free State XV (fourth on 21 points) can still pass both these teams on the log if they secure a big win over the Kenyan side, the Simba XV, in Bloemfontein on Saturday afternoon.
The final pool match of the season will take place in Piketberg on Saturday afternoon, where the Boland Cavaliers and Border Bulldogs will be playing to avoid the South Section wooden spoon in 2014.
The final two emerging young players who are making their way up the rugby ladder we'll be featuring from the North and the South Sections are Sinovuyo Nyoka from the Pumas and Sandile Kubeka of the Sharks XV.
Rising Star - Sinovuyo Nyoka (Pumas)
Sinovuyo Nyoka might be small in stature - he stands 1.68m tall and weighs just under 80kg - but this nuggety scrumhalf of the Pumas plays with massive heart.
The 23-year-old Nyoka hails from King William's Town and is a born and bred Border Bulldog, whose colours he's been playing in since he represented them at the Grant Khomo Week for U16s in 2006. He attended Dale College, a couple of years after Keegan Daniel, Bandise Maku and Bjorn Basson.
He made the move north at the end of last season though and with Faf de Klerk on Super Rugby duty with the Lions, Nyoka has been the Pumas' first-choice scrumhalf in all but one of their matches since the start of the Vodacom Cup.
Nyoka is a former SA Schools player - he played in 2008 alongside Pat Lambie, Siya Kolisi and Elton Jantjies - and he made his senior debut in 2010 in the Vodacom Cup for the Bulldogs, who he has played for in 49 matches.
He got his big break last year when he was selected for the SA President’s XV, who were unbeaten as they won the IRB Tbilisi Cup in Georgia. Nyoka started at scrumhalf against Uruguay and Georgia, and played from the bench against Emerging Ireland.
Nyoka is a typical scrumhalf in the sense that he is very quick to the ball, has a great pass and a sniping break with an eye for the gap. His ability to read the game and see and attack space saw him walk away with the man of the match award against Uruguay in Georgia last year, where he had a hand in all three of the President's XV's tries.
Rising Star - Sandile Kubeka (Sharks XV)
At only 19 years old Sandile Kubeka's rugby track record speaks volumes about the quality of the player he is and the bright future he has ahead of him.
The Sharks Academy student was born in Durban in 1994 and matriculated at Kearsney College, from where he made the SA Schools team in 2012, starting at outside centre in the 'Test' against France in Wellington.
Kubeka's immense potential on the rugby field was spotted early, with the player having progressed through the junior ranks successfully from the 2007 Under-13 Craven Week to the Under-16 Grant Khomo Week in 2010 and finally the Craven Week for U18s in 2012, from where he made the SA Schools team.
He is 1.76m tall and weighs just south of 90kg, which is similar to Springbok midfielder Juan de Jongh.
Last year, Kubeka was a regular starter for the Sharks U19 team that made the semifinals of the the U19 Provincial Championship, where they were knocked out by the Golden Lions.
Kubeka graduated to senior rugby this season where he made his Vodacom Cup debut off the bench against Western Province in the second round. After that, he was named in the starting line-up for the clashes against the Free State XV and the SWD Eagles.
His talent was also spotted by SA U20 coach Dawie Theron, as he was named in the expanded Junior Springbok training group but just missed out on selection to the final squad which was announced earlier this week.
Round Seven fixtures:
Friday, April 25
Blue Bulls v Limpopo Blue Bulls
Venue: Loftus Versfeld B, Pretoria
Referee: Eduan Nel
Falcons v Griffons
Venue: Barnard Stadium, Kempton Park
Referee: Juan Sylvestre (Argentina)
Sharks v EP Kings
Venue: Kings Park, Durban
Referee: Federico Anselmi (Argentina)
SWD Eagles v Western Province
Venue: Outeniqua Park, George
Referee: Rasta Rasivhenge
Saturday, April 26
Free State XV v Simba XV
Venue: Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen
Golden Lions v Pumas
Venue: Alberton Rugby Club, Alberton
Referee: Ben Crouse
Leopards XV v Griquas
Venue: Klerksdorp Rugby Club, Klerksdorp
Referee: Lourens van der Merwe
Boland Cavaliers v Border Bulldogs
Referee: Daniel Fortuin