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The Rugby Championship This weekend saw Round 2 of The Rugby Championship.

In johannesburg, South Africa it was heart-break for the Springboks again, 2nd week in a row, this time losing in the dying minutes against a better conditiond and fitter All Blacks side, by 20 / 27, with All Blacks capatin Richie McCaw doing the damage to snatch the lead from the South Africans with only 6 minutes to go in the match.

In Mendoza, Argentinia, the Wallabies led 8 / 6 at halftime before tuning in all the screws and beating Los Pumas comfortably by 34 / 9, also earning their bonus point for tries in the process.

As a result of the Round 2 results, the All Blacks and Wallabies are joint leaders of The Rugby Championship Log, with 2 wins apiece, whereas the Springboks and Los Pumas are still winless in the Competition, with the Springboks on a paltry 2 Log points and Los Pumas still not out of the starting gates, on 0 Log Points.

In 2015 there is of course only 3 Rounds in total, in the abbreviated version of the prime Southern Hemisphere international competition due to this year being a Rugby World Cup year. In this shortened version of the competition, where in stead of the normal double Round of matches by every side against the other sides, there is only a single Round of matches by every side against each of the other nations.

Round 3 is only in a fortnight, where the focus will be on the Bledisloe clash between the Wallabies and All Blacks for this year’s overall title.

The Springboks dominated most of the 1st half but at the break the scores were still tied on 10 / 10 and later on 17 / 17 before South Africa took a slender 20 / 17 lead and held that lead untill 6 minutes from time, whereafter the All Blacks showed their class and superior fitness and better bench selections to add 10 further points and running out 7-point winners.

All is not lost for the Springboks and one feels that they showed some quality rugby 2 weeks in a row, but they will surely now realize that their overall conditioning, fitness as well as the impact their bench is supposed to have in the vital Rugby World Cup during September and October still need a massive amount of work if they are to stand a proper chance of winning the world showpiece in 2015.

The All Blacks once again appear to be massive favourites to not only win theis year’s Rugby Championship but to also go on to clinch the Rugby World Cup title in October.

Argentina seem to be dogged by the same “Illness” that the Springboks are suffering from, as they also seem incapable of ending games strong enough and also tend to kick tactically poorly, which invariably results in scores against them in the latter stages of games when defences are no longer as tight as in the beginning of matches.

The Wallabies are building up nicely towards the Rugby World Cup, having first narrowly dispatched the Springboks week before last and now comforably beating Los Pumas on the weekend. They managed to score 2 quick-fire tries towards the end of the clash in Argentina, first by Tevita Kuridrani and then barely 3 minutes later one by Adam Ashley-Cooper (to earn them the bonus point for tries) to hammer the nails in properly against the Pumas.

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ArgentinaAustraliaLos Pumas (6) 9 / 34 (8) Wallabies (Final Score)

The Argentinian Pumas and Australian Wallabies did battle in Round 2 of The Rugby

Championship at Estadio Malvinas, Mendoza at Sunday 00:40 SA Time (19:40 Arg Time, 22:40

GMT, Sunday 08:40 AEST, Sunday 10:40 NZ Time). This was the live match discussion Article.

The match was broadcast LIVE on SuperSport 1 & CSN on TV in SA.

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The Rugby ChampionshipIt is Round 2 of the abbreviated Rugby Championship of 2015 (Only 1 Round of matches against each side in 2015 as opposed to a double Round of matches against all sides – home and away in non Rugby World Cup years).

There are 2 games on Saturday 25 July.

The Action of the Round is kicked off in South Africa, where the Springboks take on the old foe, the All Blacks in Johannesburg and concludes with the late night match between the Argentinian Pumas against the Australian Wallabies in Mendoza.

On Saturday at Emirates Airline Park (Ellis Park) in Johannesburg at 17:05 SA Time (15:05 GMT, 12:05 Arg Time, Sunday 03:05 NZ Time, Sunday 01:05 AEST) referee Jérôme Garcès is in charge in the Springboks vs All Blacks game.

On Saturday at Estadio Malvinas in Mendoza, at Sunday 00:40 SA Time (19:40 Arg Time, 22:40 GMT, Sunday 08:40 AEST, Sunday 10:40 NZ Time) referee Jaco Peyper of South Africa is in charge of the Pumas vs Wallabies game.

The game between the Springboks and the All Blacks should be a humdinger of note and the result could go either way. Last time these 2 sides met, also at the same venue, the Springboks won by a measly 2 points. Both sides have made some bold selections, with 2 debutants on the All Blacks side and on the Springbok side we see the return of Heinrich Brüssow, who makes his 1st Springbok appearance since November 2011. One cannot help but feel that the All Blacks have ironed out most if not almost all the chinks in their armour, whereas the Springboks still seem to be a work in progress.

The Pumas and the Wallabies have each made 7 changes to their starting line-ups and the question begs whether Los Pumas could repeat their win over the Wallabies of last year in Mendoza. The Wallabies came back very strongly against the Springboks last week, so I quite fancy them for a win against the Pumas… in Argentina.

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The Castle Rugby ChampionshipIn a shortened version of The Rugby Championship, the 2 losers of Round 1 are practically in last chance saloon while victories for Round 1’s winners would set up a winner-takes-all Bledisloe Cup clash in Round 3.

It makes for a must-see weekend of action.

 

South AfricaNew ZealandSpringboks vs All Blacks:

It’s been 6 years since South Africa managed back-to-back wins over New Zealand and Saturday’s clash between the world’s top 2 teams represents an important chance to lay down a marker.

Last year’s last-minute victory for the Springboks in Johannesburg – only their 2nd win over the All Blacks since 2009 – ended a 3-year losing streak against their great rivals.

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Daniel Hourcade

Daniel Hourcade

The Argentinian Pumas head coach, Daniel Hourcade, has made several changes to his starting line-up that will face Australia’s Wallabies at Estadio Malvinas in Mendoza on Saturday.

There is a new-look back-3 as Santiago Cordero moves to fullback in place of Joaquin Tuculet while Gonzalo Camacho and Juan Imhoff start as wings.

Matías Moroni and Juan Pablo Socino are the centres, coming in for Marcelo Bosch and Jeronimo De la Fuente, while the other change to the backline sees the experienced Martín Landajo replace Tomás Cubelli at scrumhalf.

In the pack there is a start for Javier Ortega Desio on the flank and Tomás Lavanini in the 2nd-row, which are the Pumas’ only changes up front.

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AustraliaMichael Cheika has rung the changes in his Wallabies side with 7 in total for the clash with Argentina’s Los Pumas in Mendoza on Saturday.

In 1 of 3 changes in the forwards, Reds veteran Greg Holmes will start for the green and gold for the 1st time since 2007 against Canada, while Western Force stalwart Ben McCalman returns for his 1st appearance of the 2015 international season at No 8.

The final change in the pack sees David Pocock come into the starting line-up at openside flanker with Michael Hooper named on the replacements bench.

In the backs, Waratahs scrumhalf Nick Phipps and Brumbies centre Matt Toomua replace the injured Will Genia and Matt Giteau, while Joe Tomane comes in for the injured Rob Horne on the wing.

Waratahs pivot Bernard Foley replaces Quade Cooper in the starting lineup, with Cheika keen to give plenty of players a chance in the build-up to the Rugby World Cup.

“We are fortunate with the level of depth in the squad to be able to cover for the injuries we sustained last Saturday night against the Springboks,” said Cheika.

“They all deserve their start against Los Pumas and they now have an opportunity to build on the performance last week and stake their claims.

“We have 2 fine playmakers in Quade and Bernard. Both players can make an enormous impact on our team.”

There are also some new faces on the bench, with both Nic White and Kurtley Beale included after missing out last week.

Dean Mumm’s decision to return home has paid dividends, as he is set to rejoin the international arena. The 31-year-old is the last of the new faces included on the bench after his return to Australia from Exeter Chiefs.

“We know Argentina will provide a physical challenge in this match, and our reserves will have a significant role to play,” added Cheika.

“Last week they (the bench) got us home against the Springboks, and I will be looking forward to an even a greater impact from our players entering game this weekend.”

Argentina won the last clash between the 2 sides, a 21 / 17 win in the final game of the 2014 Rugby Championship, also in Mendoza.

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Steval PumasIn the 2nd match of their Cape Town tour, the Steval Pumas had to battle a strong wind to beat the Boland Cavaliers 38 / 19 at the Boland Stadium on Wednesday.

Head coach MJ Mentz made several changes to the team that played Western Province to give all players a run on tour.

Boland secured the 1st 5 points of the game whereafter the Pumas fought hard for their halftime score of 24 / 5. All the Pumas 1st-half tries were scored by the loose forwards. JJ Breet opened the score line for the Pumas, Jason Collin Fraser and Jaco Bouwer also scored a 5-pointer each.

Bouwer scored his 2nd try just before the end of the half with Justin van Staden successful with only 2 of the 4 conversions.

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Kieran Read on the rampage

Kieran Read on the rampage

 

New Zealand kicked off their Rugby Championship campaign with a comfortable 39 / 18 win over Argentina in Christchurch on Friday.

Impressive at scrum time, the All Blacks showed their power in defence and attack in the 1st half, running in 2 tries through Richie McCaw and Ma’a Nonu, allowing them to take an 18 / 6 halftime lead.

Despite 2 2nd-half tries from Agustin Creevy, it was the All Blacks who controlled things, running in 3 more scores through Charles Piutau, Kieran Read and debutant Codie Taylor.

The key to the game was the difference in defence, with New Zealand able to knock back runners all day long, while the Pumas were constantly on the back foot.

With quick ball, they created plenty of opportunities and were never really in danger, giving McCaw and Dan Carter a fitting farewell for their final international games in Christchurch.

Argentina had rested a number of experienced players, putting in faith in the likes of Guido Petti and Facundo Isa, who impressed last November, as well as promising winger Santiago Cordero.

In contrast New Zealand were playing the most experienced side in Test history, despite the absence of the likes of Conrad Smith, Julian Savea and Sam Whitelock. There was an All Black debut for Waisake Naholo, the Highlanders winger who topped the try-scoring charts in Super Rugby this season.

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Jean de Villiers

Jean de Villiers

The Steval Pumas were too strong for Western Province at the Drakenstein Correctional Centre, walking away with a 19 / 6 victory on Saturday.

The Pumas led by 19 / 3 at halftime thanks to 3 tries and 2 conversions but the hosts fought back strongly in the 2nd half to keep the visitors scoreless.

Currie Cup coach John Dobson was happy with certain aspects of the team’s performance in a match which saw Springbok captain Jean de Villiers start as he continues his comeback to top level rugby from a serious knee injury.

“Given the amount of time we had to prepare, compared to them, I am not disappointed with the performance. The only thing that’s disappointing is that it is Western Province and it’s this field with the occasion and we would have liked to have won the game.

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New ZealandArgentinaAll Blacks (18) 39 / 18 (6) Los Pumas (Final Score)

The New Zealand All Blacks and Argentinian Pumas did battle in The Rugby Championship at

AMI Stadium, Christchurch, New Zealand at 09:35 SA Time (19:35 NZ Time, 04:35 ARG Time, 17:35 AEST, 07:35 GMT).

This was the live match discussion Article.

The match was broadcast LIVE on SuperSport 1 & CSN on TV in SA.

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The Rugby ChampionshipIt is Round 1 of the abbreviated Rugby Championship of 2015 (Only 1 Round of matches against each side in 2015 as opposed to a double Round of matches against all sides – home and away in non Rugby World Cup years).

There is 1 games on Friday 17 July and 1 game on Saturday 18 July.

The Action of the Round is kicked off in New Zealand, where the All Blacks take on Los Pumas of Argentinia in Christchurch and concludes with the match between the Australian Wallabies against the South African Springboks in Brisbane.

On Friday at AMI Stadium in Christchurch at 09:35 SA Time (19:35 NZ Time, 04:35 ARG Time, 17:35 AEST, 07:35 GMT) referee Craig Joubert is in charge in the All Blacks vs Los Pumas game.

On Saturday at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane, at 12:05 SA Time (20:05 AEST, 22:05 NZ Time, 07:05 ARG Time, 10:05 GMT) referee Nigel Owens of Wales is in charge of the Wallabies vs Springboks game.

The game between the All Blacks and Los Pumas should only produce 1 result and that is a comfortable win for the All Blacks. All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has opted for a very experienced run-on side and replacement bench, whereas Argentinian coach Daniel Hourcade has included a number of inexperienced players in a very experimental Pumas side.

The game between the Wallabies and Springboks is extremely difficult to call but Rugby Championship and Tri-Nations history favours the Wallabies greatly at home in Australia against the Springboks. Wallabies coach Michael Cheika has opted to haul back some big guns, 2 from overseas (Matt Giteau and Drew Mitchell) and 2 recent Australian-based Wallabies who missed some of last year’s internationals (Will Genia & Quade Cooper) to bolster his match-day 23. Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer has changed just 1 player from the run-on side which demolished the World XV side last weekend, namely Schalk Burger in place of Warren Whiteley at No 8 and has made 4 further changes on the bench.

One would have to flip a coin or be very bold to nominate a winner here, but I suppose the home side goes in with a slight advantage.

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New ZealandArgentinaThe Rugby Championship’s most successful team kicks off against the least successful when New Zealand’s All Blacks host the Argentinian Pumas on Friday.

In fact the teams’ records in the competition almost exactly mirror each other, with the All Blacks having won 16, drawn 1 and lost 1, while Argentina have won 1, drawn 1 and lost 16.

Even their points for and against are remarkably similar, New Zealand having racked up 543 points, 4 fewer than Argentina have conceded, and the Pumas scoring 273, 1 fewer than the All Blacks have let in.

Those numbers show that the All Blacks’ dominance in the competition has been very similar to Argentina’s struggles and it’s hard to see that changing in Christchurch on Friday.

Pumas coach Daniel Hourcade is using the game as an opportunity to test out some young players, while Steve Hansen is more focused on a few old heads proving their form.

That’s not to say the All Black side is completely devoid of new faces, Waisake Naholo will start for the 1st time, while Codie Taylor should also make his debut off the bench.

However it is the form of the likes of Israel Dagg, Tony Woodcock and Keven Mealamu, which will be of serious interest.

The latter pair should be inked in for the Rugby World Cup squad, despite disappointing seasons for the Blues, but for all Hansen’s protestations, Dagg is surely fighting for a place on the plane to England given the depth of options in the back 3.

In comparison, Hourcade has chosen to rest a number of 1st team regulars, giving Rugby Championship debuts to Facundo Isa, Guido Petti and Santiago Cordero.

The latter has been highly-rated for a while, but has not had many opportunities against top tier opposition. With Manuel Montero ruled out of the Rugby World Cup through injury, this could be Cordero’s chance to shine.

Having said that, Argentina have made it very clear they are solely focused on the World Cup, and it’s hard to imagine them picking up a 1st-ever win over New Zealand.

They did however secure their first Rugby Championship win in their final game of last year’s edition, but the Wallabies at home and the All Blacks away are very different challenges.

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ArgentinaArgentina head coach, Daniel Hourcade, has confirmed the Pumas team that will tackle New Zealand in Friday’s opener of The Rugby Championship in Christchurch.

The side features 12 changes from the last match against the French Barbarians with just the trio of Guido Pagadizabal Petti, Facundo Isa and Jerónimo De la Fuente retaining their places from the 21 / 9 victory.

Manuel Carizza has been re-called for his 1st match for Argentina since the June 2014 Test against Scotland while Santiago Cordero will line-up for his 1st Rugby Championship match, along with Isa and Petti.

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New ZealandThe All Blacks team to play the Argentinian Pumas in The Rugby Championship-opening match has been named, with exciting winger Waisake Naholo to make his Test debut.

Another new All Black, hooker Codie Taylor, is named on the reserves bench for the clash at AMI Stadium in Christchurch.

24-Year-old Naholo comes in for George Moala in 1 of 6 changes from the match-day 23 that played Samoa last week.

In the forwards, lock Brodie Retallick is back in the starting 15, replacing Samuel Whitelock, with Jeremy Thrush coming in as lock reserve; TJ Perenara is at scrumhalf, with Andy Ellis, who played his 250th 1st-class match last week, moving to the bench; while Ma’a Nonu has been named at centre in his 95th Test, and Ryan Crotty moving to the bench. Taylor replaces Hikawera Elliot as reserve hooker and the only other change in the reserves sees loose forward Liam Messam come in for Matt Todd.

It’s another hugely experienced All Blacks team for the Rugby Championship opener, with prop Tony Woodcock to make his 100th Test start in his outstanding career. The match-day 23 boasts 1068 caps worth of experience and an average age of 28 years.

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ArgentinaVeteran Argentina back rowers Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe and Juan Manuel Leguizamon were named in a 28-man squad for next week’s Rugby Championship clash with New Zealand.

2 Other survivors from the 2007 and 2011 World Cups, wing Horacio Agulla and prop Marcos Ayerza, were also selected on Thursday for their 17 July tournament opener in Christchurch.

The squad will fly from Sydney on Saturday, where a pre-tournament squad of 36 were training with this year’s World Cup in England also in mind, the Argentine Rugby Union (UAR) said.

The squad is dominated by players, including captain Agustin Creevy, contracted to the UAR for the Argentine franchise that will compete in Super Rugby next year.

7, Including former captain Fernandez Lobbe of Toulon, are part of the dwindling contingent of European-based players included.

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Juan Figallo

Juan Figallo

Argentina and Saracens prop Juan Figallo has been ruled out of the 2015 Rugby World Cup in England after undergoing surgery.

Figallo was with Argentina training for The Rugby Championship in Sydney last Thursday and he turned in a tackle and injured his knee.

The prop flew back to London after the injury and has already undergone surgery and will work his way back to fitness with Saracens.

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Corné Fourie

Corné Fourie

Faf de Klerk

Faf de Klerk

The Golden Lions Rugby Union have announced the signing for the 2016 season of 2 of their Emirates Lions franchise partners, the Steval Pumas’ players, Faf de Klerk and Corné Fourie.

The Media Release reads as follows:

Lions Rugby (Pty) Ltd is pleased to announce the contracting of Pumas duo Faf de Klerk and Corné Fourie for the 2016 season.

Both De Klerk and Fourie, who have played Vodacom Super Rugby for the Emirates Lions through loan agreements over the past 2 seasons, will return to Johannesburg under permanent contracts in November 2015.

The pair has signed 1-year contracts with Lions Rugby and will thus be involved in both the 2016 Vodacom Super Rugby and ABSA Currie Cup campaigns.

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Daniel Hourcade

Daniel Hourcade

Argentina coach Daniel Hourcade gave the 1st indication of what his Rugby World Cup line-up will look like, when he named his squad for The Rugby Championship.

He wasted no time in drafting in his overseas-based players who were not part of the just-completed 2-match series against the French Barbarians.

Horacio Agulla (Bath), Marcos Ayerza (Leicester Tigers), Marcelo Bosch (Saracens) and Gonzalo Camacho (Leicester Tigers) joined the squad.

The numbers will be reduced from the current 36 to 28 when they head to Sydney on Saturday 11 July, where they will prepare for their opening Rugby Championship encounter – with the New Zealand All Blacks in Christchurch on 17 July.

Hourcade said it has been a long process to select the squad.

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Eduan van der walt

Eduan van der walt

One of the stars of the Pumas’ win in this year’s Vodacom Cup series has been admitted to a Pretoria hospital with Guillain-Barre Syndrome.

Eduan van der Walt, who captained the Nelspruit side in their surge towards the Vodacom Cup title, is in the Unitas hospital after being struck down with GBS.

And it isn’t the 1st time.

Van der Walt managed to complete 14 months of rehabilitation from GBS to return to the rugby field earlier this year, being chosen by new Pumas coach MJ Mentz to captain the side in the Vodacom Cup captain for his leadership skills and drive to get back to the top.

Van der Walt played in his 100th game in the semifinal win over the Xerox Golden Lions and lifted the trophy a week later in Cape Town, but one week after all this happened, things went horribly wrong for the lock.

Van der Walt sought medical help after feeling muscle loss in his facial muscles, and was rushed to Unitas hospital where he was taken up in the intensive care unit.

“After several tests, the consulting doctor, Dr Naidoo confirmed that he had a relapse into GBS and his situation worsened while in hospital before it was stabilised by Sunday,” Pumas’ team doctor Kobus Hugo said.

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Steval PumasA new Vodacom Cup champion was crowned in Cape Town on Saturday afternoon when the Steval Pumas lifted the coveted trophy for the 1st time ever. The Lowvelders, coached by former Springbok Sevens player MJ Mentz, became the 8th team to win this competition since its inception in 1998.

The Steval Pumas completed a remarkable run in their 3 playoff matches – they beat the Vodacom Cup champions of 2012, 2013 and 2014 on 3 consecutive weekends away from home.

On Saturday, they upset the odds yet again by beating DHL Western Province, the only unbeaten team left in the competition, in the final. The scoreline of 24 / 7 suggests it was a walk in the park for the Steval Pumas, but they had to dig deep and showed the value of playing knock-out rugby with experienced players.

And as they did in the semi-final last weekend, big lock Rudi Mathee scored a try for the visitors and livewire flanker Marnus Schoeman added a brace of 5-pointers.

Although he could only add 4 points to his overall tally, Steval Pumas flyhalf JC Roos finished the season as the top points scorer with 115 – the only player in 2015 to surpass 100 competition points – while SWD Eagles speedster Alshaun Bock scored the most tries, with 8.

Schoeman, courtesy of his 4 tries in the last 2 matches, ended 2nd on the list of try scorers with 7, while DHL WP’s Sikhumbuzo Notshe, Kefentse Mahlo of the Vodacom Blue Bulls, Martin Sithole of the Down Touch Griffons and the Hino Valke duo of Riaan Arends and Anrich Richter all scored 6 tries.

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Vodacom CupThe Steval Pumas and DHL Western Province have travelled as far afield as Windhoek, Secunda, Kimberley and Caledon, and will converge on Cape Town this weekend for the Vodacom Cup Final.

The match – the 1st time ever the Vodacom Cup Final will be hosted in Cape Town – will form part of Newlands celebrating its 125th year of existence this weekend. And to add a little spice, it’s a replay of last year’s quarter-final, won 13 / 8 by the Steval Pumas in Nelspruit.

One member of that Steval Pumas side, who will be watching from the sidelines in the colours of the DHL Stormers, is Vincent Koch. 10 Of his team-mates from last year’s quarter-final will return to Cape Town this weekend – Jacques Momberg, Frankie Herne, DJ Terblanche, Marius Coetzer, Uzair Cassiem, JC Roos, Wilmaure Louw, Jerome Pretorius, JW Bell and Reynier van Rooyen.

For the home team, only 6 members of their match-22 this weekend were part of the side that tasted defeat in the Mbombela Stadium last year. They are Jan de Klerk, Rayn Smid, Michael Willemse, Sti Sithole, Deacon Chowles and Robert du Preez.

DHL WP coach John Dobson has selected Wilhelm van der Sluys as the “sole survivor” of their 2012 title winning side. Louw and Simon Westraadt, now plying their trade in the Lowveld, were in the colours of GWK Griquas that night 3 years ago.

Louw was also member of the Steval Pumas side which lost in the final against the Xerox Golden Lions in 2013, and will return for the final along with 10 other members of that team – Momberg, Terblanche, Coetzer, Cassiem, Pretorius, Bell, Herne, Eduan van der Walt, Stefan Watermeyer and Blitzbok Rosko Specman.

The last time these 2 sides met in Cape Town, was in semi-final in 2012, with DHL WP winning comfortably by 33 / 20 en route to their maiden Vodacom Cup title.

At home, DHL Western Province hold a commanding 4 / 1 lead over the Steval Pumas, with the visitors from Mpumalanga recording their 1st and only win at DHL Newlands in 2002 (58 / 18). The Capetonians though emerged victorious at home in 2012 (33 / 20), 2011 (27 / 14), 2008 (59 / 19) and 2003 (33 / 28).

Overall, they’ve played against each other 9 times in the Vodacom Cup, with DHL WP winning 6 times and the Steval Pumas on 3 occasions.

“It’s a great occasion for Western Province rugby and we’d like to go out there on Saturday and make our supporters proud of this team,” said Dobson, who will be head coach of the Cape Town-based union in the ABSA Currie Cup.

“We’ve put in a lot of hard work this season and it’s wonderful that we can play a final in front of our supporters at DHL Newlands, but we know it will be a tough encounter against a well-coached and experienced Pumas side. You only have to look at the way in which they won their playoffs in the last fortnight to see that they are peaking at the right time of the season.”

Steval Pumas coach MJ Mentz said: “We’ve already eliminated the champions from 2014 and 2013, and now we have an opportunity to do the same against the champions from 2012.

“It sounds easier than it is though and playing at Newlands provides us with yet another massive challenge. The structures at Western Province are very well established, they are a well-coached side and always bring through some superb young players.

“But we’re focused on our own game and what we want to achieve. We saw against the Golden Lions last weekend what our experienced players can do and we’ll be counting on them again to pull this one through.

“We’re going to Cape Town with a belief that we can win, otherwise we may just as well stay at home. We’ve shown what we can do in the last two weeks by winning tough matches away from home and Newlands will be even tougher.”

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Vodacom CupThe Steval Pumas qualified for their 2nd Vodacom Cup final in 3 years and will have to travel to Cape Town to face DHL Western Province next weekend.

It will be the 1st time ever that the Vodacom Cup Final is hosted in Cape Town, in what is only the 2nd time that DHL Western Province have advanced to the season decider.

On Saturday afternoon at DHL Newlands in Cape Town, DHL Western Province beat the Vodacom Blue Bulls by 10 / 6 in a scrappy encounter, putting themselves in the inside lane to win the Vodacom Cup for only the 2nd time.

They will face a Steval Pumas side that caused their 2nd upset in as many weeks though, when they dealt the Xerox Golden Lions their 1st defeat of the season at Emirates Airline Park in Johannesburg on Friday evening, deservedly winning by 43 / 20.

This victory means that the Lowvelders had knocked out the Vodacom Cup champions of 2013, the Xerox Golden Lions, and 2014, GWK Griquas, in the last fortnight. Next Saturday in Cape Town they will be looking to add the 2012 winners to this impressive list.

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Vodacom CupThe Steval Pumas and Vodacom Blue Bulls will be facing the 2 unbeaten sides in the Vodacom Cup this year, the Xerox Golden Lions and DHL Western Province, when the 4 remaining teams face off in the semi-finals this weekend.

Of these 4, it’s only the Steval Pumas, runners up in 2013, that haven’t won the Vodacom Cup. The Lowvelders caused an upset last weekend when they eliminated the defending champions, GWK Griquas, in their quarter-final in Kimberley.

The Xerox Golden Lions last won the last of their 5 Vodacom Cup titles in 2013, the 3-time champion Vodacom Blue Bulls’ last success was in 2010 and DHL Western Province lifted the trophy for the 1st and only time in 2012.

There will be extra incentive for DHL Western Province when they host the Vodacom Blue Bulls in the 2nd semi-final on Saturday afternoon as they will host the final the next weekend should they progress.

However, should the Capetonians lose their 1st match of the season, the highest-placed team from the North Section will host the final.

The Vodacom Blue Bulls hold the upper hand in knock-out contests between these traditional rivals – they won both (in 2010 by 17 / 6 in Pretoria and in 2009 by 36 / 16, also at home).

In fact, the last time DHL Western Province hosted the Vodacom Blue Bulls in the Vodacom Cup in Cape Town, was way back in 2001, with the visitors winning easily by 41 / 10.

In total, they’ve met 9 times with the Vodacom Blue Bulls winning 6 and DHL Western Province 3. The Capetonians won the last encounter between these sides, by 16 / 8 in Pretoria in 2011.

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Vodacom Cup3 Of the 4 Vodacom Cup semi-finalists are from the North Section after the Xerox Golden Lions, Vodacom Blue Bulls and Steval Pumas all won their quarter-final encounters this weekend.

The unbeaten DHL Western Province will be the South Section’s sole representative in the Top 4 next weekend after the Steval Pumas upset the defending champions, GWK Griquas, at GWK Park in Kimberley on Friday evening.

The visitors from the Lowveld won 28 / 14 and outscored the 5-time champions by 3 tries to 2 in a match that came alight in the 2nd half.

DHL Western Province, champions in 2012, beat the Leopards XV by 47 / 22 at City Park in Cape Town on Saturday afternoon.

The Xerox Golden Lions were made to work extremely hard in their quarter-final against the SWD Eagles at Emirates Airline Park in Johannesburg on Saturday afternoon, with the visitors from George scoring 3 tries to the 2013 champions’ 2, but in the end it wasn’t enough.

The 4th quarter-final was a rather 1-sided affair at Loftus Versfeld on Friday evening, where the Vodacom Blue Bulls beat the Toyota Free State XV by 44 / 21, with William Small-Smith dotting down 3 times for the 3-time champions from Pretoria.

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Vincent Koch

Vincent Koch

Star DHL Stormers prop Vincent Koch will not be available for Western Province in this year’s Currie Cup.

According to reports, Koch’s contract with the Pumas lasts until the end of 2016 and his home union has no intention of letting him go.

“He will play (Currie Cup rugby) for me in 2015 and 2016,” said Pumas president Hein Mentz.

“Our viewpoint is that we give players opportunities to improve. Therefore, we made Vincent available to the Stormers and Renaldo Bothma and Giant Mtyanda to the Sharks.

“Vincent was loaned to the Stormers because the Lions, our franchise partner, didn’t regard him as good enough.”

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Vodacom CupThere were tries aplenty as the Vodacom Cup moved up a gear with the quarter-finals moving into sight for the 16 teams vying for the title.

In the South Section, the SWD Eagles probably delivered the biggest upset as they outplayed the Cell C Sharks XV in George on Friday evening, winning comfortably by 36 / 13 after a superb 2nd half performance where they scored 29 unanswered points.

GWK Griquas showed they will not let go of their title without a proper fight as they completely outclassed the Boland Cavaliers by 62 / 19 in Velddrif on Saturday afternoon, while the Toyota Free State XV beat the EP Kings by 50 / 45 in an extraordinary match in Bloemfontein where the scorers with still tied at 42 / 42 with only 5 minutes remaining on the clock.

DHL Western Province were predictably too strong for the Border Bulldogs as they cemented their position at the top of the South Section log with a 34 / 6 win on Saturday afternoon.

In the North Section, last weekend’s log leaders, the Xerox Golden Lions, enjoyed a BYE and was overtaken at the top of the standings by the Vodacom Blue Bulls, who beat the Down Touch Griffons by 40 / 21 in Pretoria on Friday afternoon.

The Steval Pumas’ 31 / 23 victory over the Leopards XV in Potchefstroom on Friday means the race to the top of the North Section log is now effectively between 3 teams.

The FNB Welwitschias recorded their 1st win of the season when they beat the Assupol Limpopo Blue Bulls by 24 / 17 in Windhoek on Saturday afternoon.

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Nicolás Sánchez

Nicolás Sánchez

Argentina flyhalf Nicolas Sanchez has left European champions Toulon to get ready for his wedding in May and to prepare for the World Cup.

Sanchez joined the French and European champions in October as an injury replacement for Frederic Michalak.

But after the latter returned to action on Saturday in the 34 / 24 defeat at home to Toulouse, Sanchez was no longer available for Top 14 action.

He could have continued to turn out for Toulon in the European Cup – the champions hosts Wasps in the quarterfinals next weekend – but he said he preferred to return home.

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MJ Mentz - Pumas head coach

MJ Mentz – Pumas head coach

MJ Mentz has been handed the reigns for the Pumas in their upcoming Vodacom Cup campaign and the coach is looking to keep a similar system going.

The Pumas enjoyed a successful year in 2014 as they toppled some of the bigger teams in the Currie Cup through their gritty determination.

“The secret to our success this year will certainly lie in our communication skills and a shared goal,” Mentz said.

The new coach also said the last two years coaching under the mentorship of coach Jimmy Stonehouse was a great stepping-stone in his coaching career.

The way Stonehouse maintained discipline in the squad was a huge encouragement and now Mentz would like to add his way to the existing system.

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Steval PumasThe Nelspruit-based Steval Pumas have retained the bulk of their coaching squad, without appointing a new head coach.

The top spot in the coaching became vacant earlier this month when head coach Jimmy Stonehouse resigned from his position to join Japanese club Toshiba Brave Lupus.

On Thursday the board of directors of the Mpumalanga Rugby (Pty) Ltd revealed they have decided to leave the coaching team intact for the duration of the 2015 Vodacom Cup.

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Cell C SharksAs Super Rugby preparations are underway by all franchises early in January, a quick peek at some of the things popping out at the Cell C Sharks.

We take a quick look at Brendan Venter’s role while Gary Gold is still in Japan. Renaldo Bothma tells of his tremendous growth at the Sharks in pre-season and Giant Mtyanda is drafted in to train with the Sharks as extra lock cover.

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Jimmy Stonehouse

Jimmy Stonehouse

After seven years at the helm of the Pumas, Jimmy Stonehouse will be leaving Nelspruit to ply his trade in Japan with the Toshiba Brave Lupus.

Stonehouse had been instrumental in the team being promoted to the Currie Cup Premier Division in 2010 and again in 2014 while their promotion, and unbeaten run in the 2013 First Division competition, earned Stonehouse the SA Rugby Union’s Coach of the Year award.

He had been approached on three previous occasions by Japanese clubs, which he turned down, the latest being in February 2014 but he feels that it is the right time to move on and take on a new challenge.

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BarbariansArgentinaThe Barbarians will round off their 125th anniversary year by tackling Argentina at Twickenham in November 2015, organisers announced on Tuesday.

After a chastening 2013, the invitational side proved themselves credible opponents for the world’s elite teams this year, going down 49-39 to a youthful England team in June and narrowly losing 40-36 to Australia last month.

They are scheduled to play Ireland in Limerick on 8 May and will play England three days later before finishing the year against Argentina.

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ArgentinaThe one time in Europe that Argentina strayed slightly away from their traditional strengths, they lost, engaging in an entertaining running contest with Scotland, but otherwise closed the year with a 3-1 record over their last four.

It means that Los Pumas finish the season with form behind only New Zealand and Ireland, defeating the Wallabies in Mendoza, before grinding down Italy and France on consecutive weekends to return to South America on a high.

Coach Daniel Hourcade has been superb and his feats have been lost somewhat when talking about the likes of Steve Hansen or Joe Schmidt.

Yet the former Pampas mentor has turned many local players into hardened Test regulars, further ridding Argentina of a heavy reliance on European based stars.

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End Of Year ToursOnce again the four Rugby Championship teams have been and gone but this time they did not have it all their own way on their annual visit to the British Isles as it ended five wins apiece from the 10 Tests.

Ireland beat both South Africa and Australia, Wales downed the former and England the latter, and Scotland defeated Argentina.

Admittedly, the Pumas are not part of rugby union’s traditional southern hemisphere big three, and the incomparable All Blacks sailed through their Tests unbeaten, but even discounting the Scottish win over Argentina the matches against the three giants from the south only ended 5-4 to the visitors.

Former England and Lions great Jeremy Guscott has been out and about  during November and here he selects a XV for both the home nations and the Rugby Championship sides.

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