A bumper weekend of action lies ahead in the United Rugby Championship as the sport’s hemispheres collide.
Four mouth-watering “North versus South” encounters take place in South Africa, with the Scarlets, Munster, Cardiff and Zebre Parma all on their travels.
It also promises to be another gripping schedule in the South African Shield, with the top three teams – Cell C Sharks, DHL Stormers and Vodacom Bulls – separated by just three points.
The Sharks are first into action, hosting the Scarlets at Hollywoodbets Kings Park in Durban, where the visitors will look to build on an impressive victory over fourth-placed Glasgow Warriors last time out.
Attention switches to Pretoria on Saturday, with Munster looking to preserve a top-three place when they tackle the Bulls, before a huge fixture in Belfast between the URC’s current top two as leaders Leinster meet Ulster.
On Sunday, it’s back to South Africa, with the Emirates Lions hosting Cardiff in Johannesburg and Zebre Parma meeting the Stormers at the Danie Craven Stadium, Stellenbosch.
FRI – Cell C Sharks v Scarlets
Hollywoodbets Kings Park, Durban | KO 17:10 UK & IRE (18:10 ITA, 19:10 SA) | Live on SuperSport, BBC Wales, Premier Sports, TG4 and URC TV
The Cell C Sharks are one of the Vodacom United Rugby Championship’s form teams, having lost only one of their last six fixtures in the competition.
Their record at home is just as impressive, with a solitary loss – against Currie Cup opponents Western Province – since July.
The Scarlets have claimed just four URC wins this season but three of those came in their last five games.
They have lost once from 10 previous encounters against South African opposition, going down 28-21 to the Cheetahs in December 2017.
SAT – Vodacom Bulls v Munster
Loftus Versfeld Stadium, Pretoria | KO 14:05 UK & IRE (15:05 ITA, 16:05 SA) | Live on SuperSport, TG4, Premier Sports and URC TV
Munster will arrive at Loftus Versfeld following a 64-3 thumping of the Dragons last weekend, which continued a strong run of form.
The Irish province have lost one of their last seven matches, being pipped by Glasgow last month, and have suffered a solitary defeat against South African opponents in 11 fixtures.
The Vodacom Bulls will look to address patchy home form that has seen them lose three of the last four in all competitions.
They will also target a first win against Irish opposition, having lost their previous two Vodacom United Rugby Championship encounters against Leinster and Connacht.
SAT – Ulster v Leinster
Kingspan Stadium, Belfast | KO 19:35 UK & IRE (20:35, 21:35 SA) | Live on Premier Sports, TG4 and URC TV
There is unlikely to be a spare seat in the house at Belfast’s Kingspan Stadium, where leaders Leinster face second-placed Ulster.
Ulster have suffered a solitary defeat in the last three months and their home record is imperious in the United Rugby Championship – played eight, won eight.
Leinster, though, are on the charge, with four successive URC victories under their belt since losing narrowly to Cardiff in late January.
The Dublin-based side have won on two of their last three visits to Belfast but Ulster are seeking a first URC season double against Leinster since the 2012-13 campaign.
SUN – Emirates Lions v Cardiff Rugby
Emirates Airline Park, Johannesburg | KO 14:00 UK & IRE (15:00 ITA, 16:00 SA) | Live on SuperSport, S4C, Premier Sports and URC TV
The Emirates Lions have not won in any competition for three months while their last victory at Emirates Airlines Park came in June.
Their only previous fixture against Welsh opposition ended in a 36-13 defeat against the Scarlets last October.
Cardiff’s last five games in the Vodacom United Rugby Championship have all been won by the home side on the day and they have not triumphed on the road in the competition this term.
The Welsh club, though, have lost just one of their last five encounters against South African sides, going down 29-19 at home to the Vodacom Bulls in October.
SUN – DHL Stormers v Zebre Parma
Danie Craven Stadium, Stellenbosch | KO 16:05 UK & IRE (17:05 ITA, 18:05 SA) | Live on SuperSport, Mediaset, Premier Sports & URC TV
The Danie Craven Stadium in Stellenbosch will become the 52nd different venue to host a Vodacom United Rugby Championship game when DHL Stormers meet Zebre Parma.
Stormers’ four-game unbeaten run in the competition ended with a loss to Connacht last month and their only previous fixture against an Italian team saw them beaten by Benetton six months ago.
Zebre Parma’s long wait for a victory continued with a 27-22 loss against the Ospreys last weekend but they did collect a losing bonus point for the first time since May.
They have, though, beaten South African opponents on three previous occasions, with one of those victories being away from home when they toppled the Southern Kings in Port Elizabeth during the 2017-18 season.