BLOEMFONTEIN Crusaders became the first club to qualify for the 2015 Cell C Community Cup – and the first to play in all three editions of SARU's new national club championship – when they finished as the top non-university club in the Free State Town Challenge Cup.
Crusaders, who under the coaching of former Cheetahs star Eddie Fredericks placed 10th in this year's Community Cup – which included a 19-17 away loss to eventual finalists Roodepoort – beat the University of the Free State Irawas 40-19 in their final league match to ensure they ended third on the final log, ahead of open-club rivals Bloemfontein Police and Bloemfontein Collegians.
Crusaders went on to lose in the Cup semi-final to the University's Under-23 team – who play Shimlas in the final on Saturday – but the Heidedal side are already planning for next year's Community Cup, which is provisionally scheduled to take place from 21 February to 6 April 2015.
Elsewhere around the country, Community Cup 2015 qualifying is in full swing in the provincial premier leagues, with a number of clubs who played in 2013's inaugural tournament making a strong comeback after missing out in 2014.
Leading the pack up north is Pretoria Police, who failed to qualify for this year's Community Cup after finishing sixth in the 2013 edition. The Bobbies, under the leadership of evergreen lock Nico Luus, currently lead the Blue Bulls Carlton League after an inspired 33-20 away victory over champions Tukkies last week.
Across the Jukskei, 2013 wild cards Raiders are in pole position to qualify as Golden Lions champions after their 28-22 win over Pirates, which took the Longdale side three points clear of UJ in the Pirates Grand Challenge and 10 points ahead of their nearest open club rivals, Vaseline Wanderers.
And down south, 2012 Boland champions One Logix United Bulk Villagers Worcester currently lead the Premier League by three points over champions Roses United, who finished sixth in George earlier this year.
The resurgent form of Police, Raiders and Villagers, together with the emergence this season of a number of famous old clubs, has ensured not only that the provincial premier leagues are more competitive now than they have been in many years, but also that the 2015 Community Cup field will be the classiest yet.
SA Home Loans Durban Collegians, who have won the KZN Fidelity Security Moor Cup more times than any other club, are on course to qualify for 2015 – and claim their first domestic title since 2005 – after they beat eight-time champs Jonsson College Rovers 13-11 last weekend to take a six-point lead at the league's halfway stage.
Down the coast, Progress lead the race in the EP Grand Challenge by two points over 2013 Community Cup champions Gap Management Despatch. The Uitenhage side, whose famous 2006 win over Maties in the old national club championships was the subject of a documentary film that was screened around the world, have endured some lean years but look to have rediscovered their best form.
And in Cape Town, newly-promoted False Bay, with five wins from their first seven matches, lead the Community Cup race by two points over Hamiltons, who finished third in George and who, despite having two matches in hand over their southern-suburbs rivals, will know, as Police and Villagers discovered last year, that requalifying is not a foregone conclusion.
This weekend's Community Cup qualifying fixtures:
Blue Bulls – Carlton League (Sat, 16h00):
Naka Bulls v Refreshhh! Centurion
TUT v Tukkies
Pretoria Police v Harlequins
Blue Bulls Limpopo – Boet Fick Senior League (Sat, 16h00):
Letaba v BB Truck Noordelikes
Messina v Pietersburg
Blue Bulls Limpopo – Waterberg League (Fri, 20h00):
Northam v Nylstroom
Kwaggas v Mogol
Vaalwater v Potgietersrus
Boland – Premier League (Sat, 16h00):
Villagers Worcester v Wesbank (Boland Park, Worcester)
Hawston v Roses United (Bospark, Hawston)
Saldanha v Delicious (Saldanha Sports Grounds)
Ceres v Vredenburg (Victoria Park, Ceres)
Border – Super League (Sat, 15h30):
WSU All Blacks v Buffalo (Walter Sisulu University, Potsdam)
Breakers v Cambridge (Mlungisi Sports Fields, Queenstown)
Berlin Tigers v Fort Hare Blues (Berlin Rugby Field, Berlin)
Winter Rose v Old Collegians (NU13, Mdantsane)
Swallows v Kempston Old Selbornians (NU1, Mdantsane)
Ready Blues v East London Police (Tshabo Rugby Field, Berlin)
Eastern Province – Grand Challenge (Sat, 15h30):
Crusaders v Park (St George's Park, Port Elizabeth)
Gardens v Grahamstown Brumbies (Rosedale Fields, Uitenhage)
Spring Rose v Progress (New Brighton Oval, Port Elizabeth)
Kruisfontein v African Bombers (Country Club, Humansdorp)
Gap Management Despatch v FNB NMMU (WJ de Wet Stadium, Despatch)
SAPS v Harlequins (Kemsley Park, Port Elizabeth)
Rowan Cup Final – UFS Irawas v Bloemfontein Police (Shimla Park, Bloemfontein – Sat 14h00)
Town Challenge Cup Final – FNB Shimlas v UFS Under-23 (Shimla Park, Bloemfontein – Sat 15h30)
Golden Lions – Pirates Grand Challenge (Sat, 16h00):
Raiders v Union (Bill Jardine Stadium, Johannesburg)
UJ v Alberton (UJ Stadium, Johannesburg)
Roodepoort v Randfontein (Rand Leases Sports Ground, Roodepoort)
>b>Griffons – Senior League (Fri, 20h15):
Kroonstad v Eagle Towing Rovers (Afrikaans High School, Kroonstad)
E-Car Welkom v Welkom Police (Griffons Stadium B field, Welkom)
Griquas – Super League (Sat, 16h00):
Kuruman v Port Nolloth (Kuruman Showgrounds)
Upington v Postmasburg (Die Eiland, Upington)
KZN – Fidelity Security Moor Cup (Fri, 20h30):
Nashua Durban Crusaders v SA Home Loan Durban Collegians (20h00, Northwood Crusaders RC, Durban)
Motswako Pietermaritzburg Collegians v Varsity College (Woodburn Stadium 2, Pietermaritzburg)
FNB UKZN Impi v Amanzimtoti (Peter Booysen Park, UKZN Pietermaritzburg Campus)
Zululand Rhinos v Jonsson College Rovers (Mick Kelly Park, Empangeni)
SWD – Premier League (Sat, 16h00):
Bonnievale United v Bridgton (Bonnievale Stadium)
Blanco v Silver Stars (Blanco Rugby Field, George)
Crusaders v Pacaltsdorp Evergreens (Marais Camp, Parkdene)
Progress v Mossel Bay Barbarians (Rosemore Stadium, George)
All Blacks v Mossel Bay (Plate Sports Grounds, Bridgton, Oudtshoorn)
Valke – Peregrine League (Sat, 16h00):
Vaal Reefs (Leopards) v Kaufela Boksburg (Oppenheimer Stadium, Orkney)
NWU Vaal v Vereeniging (NWU Vaal Campus Sports Fields, Vanderbijlpark)
G5 Metals Brakpan v Springs (Bosman Stadium, Brakpan)
Western Province – Super League A:
NNK v Hamiltons (Jan Burger Sports Field, Parow – Fri 21h00)
Tygerberg v SK Walmers (Florida Park, Ravensmead)
Durbanville-Bellville v Belhar (Durbell Rugby Club, Durbanville)
Bellville v Helderberg (Bellville Rugby Club, Bellville-South)
Primrose v False Bay (Rosmead Sports Ground, Kenilworth)