Border vs EP on collision course

It looks ever more likely that there will be an even split with two teams from Border and two from Eastern Province making it to the semi-finals of the Eastern Cape Super 14 rugby competition, striking a perfect balance. As things stand, in Group A Progress are on top, unbeaten on 18 points, followed by surprise package Ncerha Leopards on 14. Group B has African Bombers unbeaten on 19 points followed closely by Swallows, also unbeaten, on 17.

Three teams remain on 100% winning ratios after four rounds. Although Progress, African Bombers and Swallows are unbeaten, surprisingly, mathematically not one semi-final spot has been secured yet, with up to four teams in each group still standing a chance to qualify, if results go their way.

Central Stadium in Uitenhage has again proved to be the fortress of nightmares for visiting teams, as proved when Progress annihilated, smashed and humiliated a hapless Black Eagles side 110-0, to rewrite the record books with the biggest winning margin in the history of the competition. One must spare a thought for the beleaguered Eagles side, which now carries the dubious record that was previously held by Old Collegians when they suffered a horrendous 88-3 hiding at the hands of the same Progress at the same venue in 2014.

On the other hand, Ncerha Leopards have made a statement of intent and, in the process, put themselves up there with the best with their come-from-behind 28-27 win over Park. What makes this win so special is that it was achieved away from home and resulted in a full haul of five points. Ncerha Leopards have overshadowed their more illustrious counterparts in Border clubs, EL Police and Old Selbornians. It shows that it was no fluke that the team went five league games unbeaten last season which made everybody start to take note of their pedigrees.

Young Leopards recorded their second victory with a bonus point 26-17 win over Breakers. The struggle continues for Gardens after losing their fourth match 46-31 against Old Boys in East London. African Bombers made light work of Kruisfontein with a comfortable 30-11 win at Zwide Stadium. Swallows continued on their dominant way with a 38-15 bonus point victory over Trying Stars. Swallows coach Ntando Kebe said after the match at NU1 stadium, of their chances to win the Super 14, “It is our dream and our goal. We want to win the tournament. We take it day by day and are not panicking about any of our performances because each weekend we improve.” When asked how the loss of players such as Billy Dutton and Aphiwe Stemele is affecting the team, he responded that they were blessed with a wealth of depth in the squad and these were opportunities for other players to step up, as demonstrated by their young flyhalf. He added they had a “fleet” of loose forwards they could call on.

Taking permutations into account, Progress, Bombers and Swallows are the clear favourites to lift the Super 14 crown. In Group A it seems likely to be a three-horse race for the two spots. Progress should take pole position, but the battle for second spot between Ncerha Leopards and Harlequins is exciting. Ncerha is on 14 points after four matches with Harlequins on 10 with three games to play. This weekend’s game at Ntenteni Fields between the two is a straight knockout. Both teams have only lost once – to Progress. Both teams are also scheduled to play Black Eagles, with both expecting easy wins although both play Eagles away. Harlequins must also play Breakers away. In Group B, it is a two-horse race between African Bombers and Swallows. Both teams can afford to lose a match and still qualify for the semis. The match on February 22 between the two sides will determine who tops the log. Swallows have one hurdle though, and that is to deal with Kruisfontein away this weekend.

In other matches, Breakers welcome a rampant Progress at the Thobi Kula Stadium. Park travel to Black Eagles with Trying Stars hosting Old Selbornians. Gardens are at home to Police with African Bombers and Young Leopards having byes.

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