The South African Vodacom United Rugby Championship teams will be determined to add to their success at home when they take the field this weekend as the cross-hemisphere competition starts reaching the business end with only five rounds of pool matches remaining.
The Cell C Sharks will host the Dragons in Durban on Friday at 19h30 in the opening match of the round, and this will be followed by an action-packed Saturday with the Vodacom Bulls hosting Ulster in Pretoria at 14h00, the Emirates Lions taking on Edinburgh at 16h05 in Johannesburg and the DHL Stormers lining up against the Ospreys in Cape Town at 18h15. All four matches will be broadcast live on SuperSport.
With three of the next four rounds of pool matches (including this weekend) being home games for SA’s sides, they will be desperate to register victories as they scramble for spots in the top eight on the log table with an eye on possible playoff places.
The Cell C Sharks will be determined to bounce back from their defeat against Edinburgh last week when they meet the Dragons, as they attempt to power their way back up the log after slipping down from sixth to eighth place last weekend.
After four wins in a row before their defeat, they will see a victory as non-negotiable to get their season back on track against the Welsh outfit, who have lost their last two fixtures against South African opponents.
Cell C Sharks head coach Sean Everitt made five changes to his team, which sees Le Roux Roets get a start in place of Reniel Hugo in the second row, while there is an all-new back row comprising James Venter, Jeandre Labuschagne (both flanks) and Phepsi Buthelezi (No 8). They will take over from Siya Kolisi, Henco Venter and Sikhumbuzo Notshe respectively.
The only change in the backline sees scrumhalf Jaden Hendrikse replace Grant Williams as the coach aims to provide stability and build continuity in the squad.
“All the Europeans teams will be stronger than what we’ve faced over the last couple of weeks because they’re getting their players back from Six Nations duty,” said Everitt.
“So, no team in this competition can be underestimated. If you’re off your game on the day, you can get a big hiding.”
The Vodacom Bulls will have their sights set on their fifth victory in a row when take on Ulster, and the fact that the visitors have won only one of their four matches in South Africa will inspire them to continue their winning run.
Fuelling the northern Gauteng side’s determination, they recorded bonus points for tries in six of their last eight Vodacom URC fixtures.
“Obviously, before we played Leinster and Connacht, none of the other franchises had played the Irish teams,” said Vodacom Bulls speedster Madosh Tambwe. “So, we never really understood how they play, but now we’ve gotten the gist of how each team plays. We know that they will go the full 80 minutes. They will test your skills set and they will test your defensive systems.
Tambwe added: “The objective stays the same. We want to finish in the top eight of the competition and go to the playoffs.”
The Emirates Lions will also target their fourth successive home win when they take the field against Edinburgh, who will be charged up after their morale-boosting victory against the Durbanites, but the home side will be wary of the fact that they would have to deliver a classy performance all around to secure the victory.
They will also be mindful of the fact that the fifth-placed Edinburgh have lost only one of their last nine fixtures against South African opponents.
“We have had some time to recover since last Friday’s game,” said Emirates Lions coach Ivan van Rooyen. “The players came back fresh on Monday and were ready to put in solid sessions this week.
“Edinburgh were successful last week against the Sharks, so they might fancy their chances up here in Johannesburg. Likewise, we’ve had a string of positive results in recent weeks which has certainly motivated us to improve on our performances as the tournament progresses.”
The DHL Stormers will look to maintain their standing as the top-placed domestic franchise in the competition when they take on Ospreys at the DHL Stadium after leaping into sixth place on the log last week with their seventh victory of the season.
With Ospreys suffering defeats in all four of their fixtures against the SA sides, the Capetonians will enter the match with confidence, but they will be ready for a fight against a team that will be determined to remain in the top 10 on the standings.
“We have been pleased with our results recently, but we know there is still much we can improve in our game and hopefully we can take another step forward on Saturday,” said DHL Stormers coach John Dobson.
“It is another great opportunity for us to play in front of our faithful supporters and we are expecting a real test from the Ospreys, who have a number of Test players in their ranks.”
Cell C Sharks v Dragons
Date: Friday, 1 April
Venue: Hollywoodbets Kings Park, Durban
SA Time: 19h30
Referee: Ben Blain
Vodacom Bulls v Ulster
Date: Saturday, 2 April
Venue: Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
SA Time: 14h00
Referee: Andrea Piardi
Emirates Lions v Edinburgh
Date: Saturday, 2 April
Venue: Emirates Airline Park, Johannesburg
SA Time: 16h05
Referee: Gianlucu Gnecchi
DHL Stormers v Ospreys
Date: Saturday, 2 April
Venue: DHL Stadium, Cape Town
SA Time: 18h15
Referee: Frank Murphy