The Emirates Lions and DHL Stormers will be the first South African sides to take the field in round seven of the competition when the teams meet in Johannesburg on Saturday at 16h00, with the Vodacom Bulls hosting the Cell C Sharks in Pretoria on Sunday at 15h00, a replay of one of last season’s four quarter-finals.
While the Vodacom Bulls come off a valuable victory in Treviso, and the Capetonians will look to bounce back from their first defeat in the season last week against Cardiff, the Emirates Lions and Cell C Sharks will be ready to regain their rhythm after their matches against Glasgow Warriors and Ulster were called off late last Friday following a bout of gastroenteritis infections in the visiting camps.
In Johannesburg, both the Emirates Lions and DHL Stormers will have their sights on victories to recover from defeats in their last outings, with the Capetonians searching for their first victory in three matches, as they registered a draw against Ospreys in their second-last outing.
The cancellation of the Johannesburgers’ match last week saw them drop down to eighth place on the standings – a position they will be desperate to improve on – while the Cape side will do their utmost to earn a win to reclaim their position as the top-placed South African team after they dropped below the Vodacom Bulls on points’ difference last week.
Interestingly, both teams have won three of their five matches so far this season, but the DHL Stormers’ draw and bonus points have allowed them to accumulate four more points than their Gauteng rivals.
The Capetonians will draw confidence from the fact that their defensive record has been the best in the early stages of the season, conceding 99 points to 134 by the Gauteng outfit, while their attack has been marginally better with 16 more points to their name in their matches to date.
The hosts, however, know how to dig deep after winning all three of their northern hemisphere tour matches, and they will be determined to tap into that mindset ahead of this important clash.
The Emirates Lions made one enforced change for the clash, with Morgan Naude replacing Sti Sithole on the bench after he suffered concussion at training this week.
Both the Vodacom Bulls and Cell C Sharks, meanwhile, come off encouraging victories against respectively Benetton and the Glasgow Warriors in their last matches, and they will want to build on these results and gain winning momentum as the competition progresses.
The win for the Pretoria side saw them claim the honours as South Africa’s top-placed side – a position they will want to hold onto after a strong start to the season in which they won their first three matches – but they will go up against a gritty Cell C Sharks team that registered confidence-boosting tour wins against Zebre Parma and the Dragons, and who have their sights set on forcing their way back into the top six on the standings.
While the Vodacom Bulls have posed a greater danger on attack in the first few rounds, the Cell C Sharks’ defence has been tighter, which is an area of their game they would like to capitalise on this weekend.
The KwaZulu-Natalians have included Springbok centre Francois Venter to make his debut for them in Pretoria on Sunday, with a few tweaks made to the team that beat the Glasgow Warriors a fortnight ago.
Also significant on Sunday is that the match in Pretoria will see the two big rivals unite in support of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and fans will also have the chance to show their support and be part of a limited-edition match-day jersey design.
The Vodacom Bulls and Cell C Sharks will play in support of the incredible work done in the field of breast cancer – the hosts will be playing for CANSA, while the visitors will play for PinkDrive.
It will be South African rugby’s biggest drive to support breast cancer awareness, with the entire Loftus Versfeld also bathed in pink as the fans and players show that “United We Care” for each other.
The Vodacom Bulls and the Cell C Sharks will literally carry this message on their backs. Fans will have the opportunity to show their own support by uploading a photo of someone (or themselves) who has suffered from or is fighting breast cancer to www.unitedwecare.co.za, and it could feature on the back of the limited-edition match-day jerseys of both the Vodacom Bulls and Cell C Sharks for their 30 October clash.
Emirates Lions v DHL Stormers
Date: Saturday, 29 October
Venue: Emirates Airline Park, Johannesburg
SA Time: 16h00
Referee: Cwengile Jadezweni
Vodacom Bulls v Cell C Sharks
Date: Sunday, 30 October
Venue: Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
SA Time: 15h00
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen
Other Vodacom United Rugby Championship fixtures – Round 7 (SA times):
Friday, 28 October:
20h35: Glasgow Warriors v Benetton
20h35: Scarlets v Leinster
Saturday, 29 October:
18h15: Dragons v Zebre Parma
18h15: Munster v Ulster
20h35: Ospreys v Connacht
Sunday, 30 October:
17h00: Cardiff v Edinburgh