Preview: No place to hide
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Losing will not be an option when the four Vodacom Cup quarterfinals take place across the country this weekend.
Durban, Cape Town, Nelspruit and Pretoria will host the top eight teams on Friday and Saturday in a weekend where second best will no longer be good enough.
The same eight teams that played in the quarterfinals in 2012, are back again this year.
Even their positions from last year are almost the same.
The Blue Bulls 'replace' Griquas as hosts, while the Sharks XV, Pumas and Western Province will all host a quarterfinal for the second successive year.
Seven of the quarterfinalists this year, also made the play-offs two years ago – when the EP Kings missed out while the Free State XV were in.
This means the Sharks XV, Pumas, Western Province, Blue Bulls, Pampas XV, Griquas and Golden Lions will all be playing in their third consecutive Vodacom Cup quarterfinal.
The first match of the weekend is scheduled for Kings Park Two in Durban, when the Sharks XV, who finished top in the South Section, host the Golden Lions on Friday.
The team from Johannesburg sneaked into the quarterfinals after winning their last three league matches.
They were reeling with one win from their first four encounters, but managed to get things back on track when it mattered most.
The Sharks XV, on the other hand, lost only once during the league phase of the competition – against the EP Kings in the penultimate round in Port Elizabeth.
Both these sides lost in the Vodacom Cup quarterfinals last year. The KwaZulu-Natalians are going into this match as favourites, but they will have taken cognisance of the Golden Lions' recent form.
Also on Friday, the Pampas XV face the tough task of travelling to Nelspruit to take on the North Section winners, the Pumas, at the Mbombela Stadium.
Like the Sharks XV, the team from Mpumalanga also lost just once this season, when they went down to a desperate Golden Lions side in Nelspruit a few weeks ago.
The Pumas would like to emulate 2012, when they reached the semifinals, while the Argentineans will be aiming for a repeat of 2011, when they won the Vodacom Cup.
The third quarterfinal is a replay of last year's final, when Western Province beat Griquas at the death in Kimberley. This time, however, the Capetonians will host the match against the four-time champions.
Western Province finished second in the South Section, while Griquas had an average season by their standards and lost three of their seven group matches. It's the first time since 2010 that the team from the Northern Cape is not hosting a quarterfinal.
The Blue Bulls will host the final play-off this weekend, at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria against the EP Kings in a match that serves as a curtain raiser to the Bulls' Super Rugby match against the Hurricanes.
The men from Pretoria are on a roll, having amassed 199 points (29 tries) and only conceded 10 in their last two league matches.
However, the EP Kings will not be easy-beats in Pretoria – they proved that in Durban a fortnight ago when they beat the Sharks XV by 27-23 in a tough contest.
Friday, May 3:
Sharks XV v Golden Lions
Venue: Kings Park, Durban
Referee: Ben Crouse
Assistant referees: Matt Kemp, Reuben Rossouw
Pumas v Pampas XV
Venue: Mbombela Stadium, Nelspruit
Referee: Jaco van Heerden
Assistant referees: Gerrie de Bruin, Stefan Breytenbach
TMO: Gerrie Coetzee
Saturday, May 4:
Western Province v Griquas
Venue: Newlands, Cape Town
Referee: Sindile Mayende
Assistant referees: Quinton Immelman, Cwengile Jadezweni
Blue Bulls v EP Kings
Venue: Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
Referee: Tiaan Jonker
Assistant referees: Lusanda Jam, Cobus Wessels
TMO: Johan Greeff
Top points scorers:
134 – Fred Zeilinga (Sharks XV – three tries, 28 conversions, 21 penalties)
93 – André Pretorius (Leopards XV – two tries, 28 cons, nine pens)
79 – Tony Jantjies (Blue Bulls – two tries, 18 cons, 11 pens)
70 – Willie du Plessis (Blue Bulls – two tries, 30 cons)
67 – Carl Bezuidenhout (Pumas – two tries, 21 cons, five pens)
Top try scorers:
10 – Anthony Volmink (Golden Lions)
8 – Marnus Schoeman (Griquas), Sampie Mastriet (Blue Bulls)
Previous Vodacom Cup 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