SA sides target another successful Vodacom URC home round

The South African sides will target another strong round in the Vodacom United Rugby Championship this weekend after a morale-boosting start to the home leg of the competition last week as the scramble for play-off places intensifies. 

The Vodacom Bulls will host the Scarlets in Pretoria in the opening game of the weekend on Friday at 19h10, while two matches will play out on Saturday, between the Emirates Lions and Munster in Johannesburg at 14h00, and the Cell C Sharks and Zebre Parma in Durban at 18h30 respectively.

The DHL Stormers and Cardiff will close out the round in Cape Town on Sunday at 14h00.

The Vodacom Bulls will have their sights set on earning their third victory in a row and trying to improve their 10th place standing on the log when they line up against the Scarlets at Loftus Versfeld, although they will be wary that the visitors will be desperate to bounce back from their defeat in Durban last week.

Depending on the other results this weekend, the team from Pretoria could move up as many as four places on the log if they earn a win, and that will certainly spark even more excitement among the players as they target their next few home games to establish themselves as a force to be reckoned with.

Cyle Brink is set to make his Vodacom United Rugby Championship debut as Jake White, Vodacom Bulls Director of Rugby, announced four changes to the victorious team that was in action against Munster last weekend.

Apart from Brink’s inclusion on the side of the scrum, Canan Moodie will start at wing, with Cornal Hendricks shifting to outside centre. The final change is at scrumhalf, where Zak Burger returns to the starting XV.

“It has been a very busy week for us as a squad this week – playing three tough matches in a space of seven days in both the Vodacom URC and Carling Currie Cup,” said White.

“We have another tough match against a Scarlets team that has shown what a threat they can be I the Vodacom URC. We will need to be sharp and prepared to play an 80-minute game in what promises to be a highly competitive encounter.”

The Emirates Lions will have the same objective when they host third-placed Munster at Emirates Airline Park following their third win of the season last week against Cardiff, but they will have their work cut out against the visitors who boast eight wins in 12 matches to date.

With a total of five home matches left for the Jozi outfit this season, they will be under immense pressure to capitalise on these encounters to bounce back from a disappointing string of results earlier in the season, but Munster haven’t lost three away Vodacom URC games in a row since 2018, and this will motivate them going into the clash.

“The win against Cardiff was a real confidence booster for us however, we are not getting ahead of ourselves,” said Emirates Lions head coach Ivan van Rooyen.

“The hard work still continues and the intent to improve each week is there. Munster are a fantastic side and have an impeccable record in this competition. Ours will be to play to our strengths and execute the things we spoke about in the week.”

The Cell C Sharks, meanwhile, will target a full house of points and look to keep their unbeaten record at home intact this season at Hollywoodbets Kings Park when they welcome Zebre Parma to Durban on Saturday, where a fourth victory in a row will be very likely if they deliver the quality of play that has steered them to success in the last few weeks.

With the Durbanites trailing Edinburgh and the Glasgow Warriors by eight points, even a bonus point win won’t influence their position on the log, but it would give them a handy nudge in reducing the gap to fifth position regardless of the result of the clash between the Scottish clubs in Glasgow on Friday.

Zebre Parma, however, come off a heavy 55-7 defeat against the DHL Stormers last week and have yet to win a match this season, which will fuel their motivation to try to create an upset in the humidity of Durban.

The Cell C Sharks team for Saturday’s match show a number of rotational changes from the side that beat Scarlets last week, with injured Springbok prop Ox Nché replaced by Ntuthuko Mchunu in the front row.

Cell C Sharks head coach Sean Everitt has also made two changes to the backline, with Ben Tapuai named at outside centre in place of Jeremy Ward, and Grant Williams replacing Jaden Hendrikse at scrumhalf.

“In this competition, no-one can be taken lightly – we saw that when the Scarlets put 35 points over Glasgow, who are in the top four of the competition,” said Everitt.

“Zebre are an unpredictable side that kick the ball really well, and although they haven’t done that well on the log, they gave the Bulls a good go for the first 40 minutes before the Bulls’ power game dominated them.

“But our focus is on our own performance at the moment, taking it week by week and we know that we need to get better and put in a better performance as a whole for 80 minutes.”

The DHL Stormers will look to march on from their big win against Zebre Parma last week when they take on Cardiff at the DHL Stadium on Sunday afternoon. Adding to the Capetonians’ motivation, they haven’t won three home games in a row since 2020.

The winning margins between the teams have been close, with the eighth-placed Capetonians earning five victories in their 11 games and Cardiff (in 13th position), sitting on four wins from nine games, meaning it could be a tight tussle.

Springbok prop Steven Kitshoff is back in the DHL Stormers’ starting team after being rested last week, with Brok Harris shifting across to tighthead prop and Neethling Fouche among the replacements.

The only other change to the match-day squad sees hooker Chad Solomon come onto the replacements bench in place of the injured Andre-Hugo Venter.

DHL Stormers head coach John Dobson said that the focus is on building some winning momentum after last week’s performance.

“We have managed to keep some continuity in our team this week which is pleasing,” said Dobson.

“We know that we can improve in many areas, and we will have to be sharp as ever to get the result we need on Sunday.”i

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