Any slip-ups this weekend will be punished with elimination when the four Vodacom Cup quarter-finals take place in Nelspruit, Durban, Bloemfontein and Kimberley on Friday and Saturday.
Of the eight teams in the quarter-finals, six are back from 2013, while two – the SWD Eagles and Toyota Free State XV – did not make it to the playoffs last year.
In fact, the Eagles are in the quarter-finals for only the second time since the Vodacom Cup started in 1998. They made the top eight in 2009 and also played in the semi-finals in the inaugural season of this competition.
And for the Cell C Sharks XV, Steval Pumas, DHL Western Province, Vodacom Blue Bulls, GWK Griquas and Golden Lions, this will be the fourth consecutive season that they have reached the Vodacom Cup quarter-finals.
The first match of the weekend is a replay of one of the 2013 quarter-finals. The defending Vodacom Cup champions, the Golden Lions, will travel to Durban to face South Section table-toppers, the Cell C Sharks XV, at 15h00 on Friday afternoon at Growthpoint Kings Park.
The Cell C Sharks won their first six pool matches before coming unstuck against the EP Kings in Durban last weekend, which would serve as a timely wake-up call before the knock-out phase of the competition started.
Last year, the team from Johannesburg also ended fourth on the North Section log. They proceeded to the final against the Steval Pumas after beating the Cell C Sharks XV in Durban (42-25) and DHL Western Province in Johannesburg (44-25).
The Steval Pumas finished the pool phase of the competition as the only unbeaten team and deservedly topped the North Section log. They host DHL Western Province, champions in 2012, in the second quarter-final, at the Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit on Friday evening at 19h10.
DHL Western Province also saw the red flag raised last weekend when they went down to the SWD Eagles in George. It was only the Capetonians’ second defeat of the season and they will travel to Nelspruit knowing full well a similar performance will see them eliminated from the competition.
Both of Saturday’s matches, in Bloemfontein and Kimberley, are scheduled for a 15h00 kick-off.
GWK Griquas, four-time Vodacom Cup champions, will host third-placed South Section side, the high-flying Eagles, at GWK Park in Kimberley. It will be a tough task for the side from George, who are playing in their first Vodacom Cup knock-out round since 2009.
The team from the Northern Cape have hosted a quarter-final every season since 2010, with last year being the exception. After the Golden Lions, who have won the competition five times, GWK Griquas are the most successful Vodacom Cup team in history.
The fourth quarter-final is between the two teams that contested the 2010 final when the Toyota Free State XV take on the Vodacom Blue Bulls at the Free State Stadium in Bloemfontein.
The team from Pretoria have won the Vodacom Cup three times, the last being four years ago when they beat the Free Staters in a nail-biter in Pretoria, winning the match thanks to an injury-time drop-goal by Francois Brummer.
This time however the Toyota Free State XV have home ground advantage, where they have lost only once this season, against the Cell C Sharks XV.
Apart from the Cell C Sharks with one defeat, the three other teams in the quarter-finals from the South Section, the Toyota Free State XV, SWD Eagles and DHL Western Province, have all lost only twice.
The North Section was much more “balanced”. The Stevel Pumas were unbeaten, followed by GWK Griquas, who lost only once, the Vodacom Blue Bulls, who lost two and the Golden Lions, who lost three of their seven pool matches.
Vodacom Cup – Historic performances
Best performance: Runners-up in 2013
Performance in 2013: Runners-up (lost to Golden Lions in the Final, 42-28)
Cell C Sharks
Best performance: Runners-up in 2006
Performance in 2013: Lost in quarter-finals (42-25 to Golden Lions)
Best performance: Champions in 1998, 2005, 2007 and 2009
Performance in 2013: Lost in quarter-finals (21-13 to DHL WP)
Toyota Free State XV
Best performance: Champions in 2000
Performance in 2013: 5th in South Section
Vodacom Blue Bulls
Best performance: Champions in 2001, 2008 and 2010
Performance in 2013: Lost in quarter-finals (34-31 to EP Kings)
Best performance: Lost in semi-finals, 1998
Performance in 2013: 6th in South Section
Best performance: Champions in 1999, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2013
Performance in 2013: Champions (beat Steval Pumas in the Final, 42-28)
DHL Western Province
Best performance: Champions in 2012
Performance in 2013: Lost in semi-finals (44-25 to Golden Lions)
Friday, 2 May
Cell C Sharks XV v Golden Lions
Venue: KP2, Growthpoint Kings Park, Durban
Referee: Francois Pretorius
Steval Pumas v DHL Western Province
Venue: Mbombela Stadium, Nelspruit
Referee: Stephan Geldenhuys
• Live on SuperSport 1
Saturday, 3 May
Toyota Free State XV v Vodacom Blue Bulls
Venue: Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein
Referee: Rodney Boneparte
GWK Griquas v SWD Eagles
Venue: GWK Park, Kimberley
Referee: Christie du Preez
Vodacom Cup Previous Winners:
1998: GWK Griquas
1999: Golden Lions
2000: Toyota Free State Cheetahs
2001: Vodacom Blue Bulls
2002: Golden Lions
2003: Golden Lions
2004: Golden Lions
2005: GWK Griquas
2007: GWK Griquas
2008: Vodacom Blue Bulls
2009: GWK Griquas
2010: Vodacom Blue Bulls
2011: Pampas XV
2012: DHL Western Province
2013: Golden Lions