The first URC action of 2022 on South African soil takes place this weekend with two major derbies taking place in Johannesburg and Pretoria.
The Emirates Lions, Cell C Sharks, DHL Stormers and Vodacom Bulls feature in the competition for the first time in seven weeks as two Round 8 fixtures are played on Saturday.
First up are the Emirates Lions against the Cell C Sharks at Emirates Airlines Park before the DHL Stormers head to Loftus Versfeld to take on the Vodacom Bulls.
It is all to play for in the South African Shield with the Emirates Lions leading the way after five matches with 11 points, two clear of the Cell C Sharks.
The DHL Stormers sit on seven points with the Vodacom Bulls, beaten by Benetton in the Rainbow Cup final last season, at the bottom a further two points back.
SAT - Emirates Lions v Cell C Sharks
Emirates Airlines Park, Johannesburg | KO 15:00 SA (13:00 UK & IRE, 14:00 ITA) | Live on SuperSport, Premier Sports and URC TV
The Emirates Lions play their first home game in the URC this season with both of their wins having come on the road at Zebre Parma and the DHL Stormers respectively.
Ivan van Rooyen’s side lost both of their meetings with the Sharks in the Rainbow Cup SA last term but did produce a fine win over the DHL Stormers in their last URC encounter on December 4.
The Cell C Sharks produced a convincing victory over the Vodacom Bulls last month and have prevailed in three of their last five visits to Johannesburg.
They have an excellent record overall against the Lions, losing just one of their last nine encounters - a 43-40 reverse at this venue in the Kick-Off Pools last March.
TEAM NEWS HEADLINES
- Megiel Burger Odendaal will captain Emirates Lions as they are set to play their first home game of the URC.
- Ben Tapuai will make his Cell C Sharks debut at inside centre.
Emirates Lions v Cell C Sharks
Emirates Airline Park, Johannesburg – KO 13.00 IRE & UK / 14.00 ITA / 15.00 SA
Referee: AJ Jacobs (SARU, 6th league game)
AR 1: Rasta Rasivhenge (SARU) AR 2: Aimee Barrett-Theron (SARU)
TMO: Cwengile Jadezweni (SARU)
Live on: SuperSport, Premier Sports & URC TV
Emirates Lions: EW Viljoen, Edwill van der Merwe, Wandisile Simelane, Megiel Burger Odendaal (CAPT), Sibahle Maxwane , Fred Zeilinga, Andre Warner, Sti Sithole, Gerrit Visagie, Carlu Sadie, Ruben Schoeman, Pieter Jansen Van Vuren, Jaco Kriel , Ruhan Straeuli, Francke Horne.
Replacements: Pieter Jacobus Botha, Morgan Naude, Ruan Dreyer, Willem Alberts, Emmanuel Tshituka, Morne van den Berg, Matt More, Tiaan Swanepoel.
Cell C Sharks: Aphelele Fassi, Sbu Nkosi, Lukhanyo Am (CAPT), Ben Tapuai, Makazole Mapimpi, Boeta Chamberlain, Grant Williams, Ox Nche, Kerron van Vuuren, Thomas du Toit, Ruben van Heerden, Hyron Andrews, James Venter, Jeandre Labuschagne, Phepsi Buthelezi
Replacements: Fez Mbatha, Ntuthuko Mchunu, Khutha Mchunu, Reniel Hugo, Henco Venter, Jaden Hendrikse, Tito Bonilla, Jeremy Ward
Emirates Lions Head Coach Ivan van Rooyen: "It’s great to be back for URC action especially on our home turf at Emirates Airline Park. It’ll be our first URC fixture at home since the campaign started so we’re pretty excited about that. We are pleased to have Pieter back. He was great for us on tour before injury halted his momentum. He’s trained really well over the past few weeks, and he is eager to get stuck in again. It’s unfortunate to lose Vincent due to an injury setback, but the opportunity now presents itself for Ruhan to come in and do the job for us in concert with Jaco Kriel and Francke Horn.“
SAT - Vodacom Bulls v DHL Stormers
Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria | KO 17:05 SA (15:05 UK & IRE, 16:05 ITA) | Live on SuperSport, Premier Sports and URC TV
The Vodacom Bulls will hope to kick-start their URC campaign by making the most of home advantage.
They return to Pretoria for the first time since the Currie Cup final in September and have been beaten just once in all competitions at this venue since February 2020.
The DHL Stormers have lost their last four meetings with the Bulls since a 13-0 victory at Newlands in Super Rugby in February 2020.
John Dobson’s troops have triumphed in three of their last five away games against fellow South African franchises but have not won at Loftus Versfeld since July 2017.
TEAM NEWS HEADLINES
Vodacom Bulls Reinhardt Ludwig will make his URC debut
- Springboks Steven Kitshoff, Damian Willemse and Herschel Jantjies will make first URC appearance for the DHL Stormers.
Vodacom Bulls v DHL Stormers
Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria – KO 15.05 IRE & UK / 16.05 ITA / 17.05 SA
Referee: Jaco Peyper (SARU, 5th league game)
AR 1: Griffin Colby (SARU) AR 2: Morne Ferreira (SARU)
TMO: Marius van der Westhuisen (SARU)
Live on: SuperSport, Premier Sports & URC TV
Vodacom Bulls: David Kriel, Madosh Tambwe, Lionel Mapoe, Cornal Hendricks (CAPT), Kurt-Lee Arendse, Chris Smith, Embrose Papier; Gerhard Steenekamp, Johan Grobbelaar, Mornay Smith, Walt Steenkamp, Ruan Nortje, Arno Botha, Reinhardt Ludwig, Elrigh Louw.
Replacements: Bismarck du Plessis, Lizo Gqoboka, Jacques van Rooyen, Janko Swanepoel, Marcell Coetzee, Zak Burger, Morné Steyn, Harold Vorster.
DHL Stormers: Damian Willemse, Sergeal Petersen, Ruhan Nel, Rikus Pretorius, Seabelo Senatla, Manie Libbok, Herschel Jantjies, Steven Kitshoff (C.CAPT), Scarra Ntubeni, Sazi Sandi, Salmaan Moerat (C.CAPT), Marvin Orie, Deon Fourie, Ernst van Rhyn, Evan Roos
Replacements: Andre-Hugo Venter, Leon Lyons, Brok Harris, Adre Smith, Hacjivah Dayimani, Paul de Wet, Dan du Plessis, Warrick Gelant.
Vodacom Bulls Director of Rugby Jake White said: “The rivalry between the Vodacom Bulls and DHL Stormers always sets us up for an exhilarating encounter. This weekend will be no different, and to begin the year in the United Rugby Championship against a quality side like the DHL Stormers will be important in determining where we are as a team after the end-year break. While we look forward to entertaining the 2000 spectators who will be at Loftus Versfeld, we can only hope that we will soon see the numbers increase and we return to some form of normality, which is important commercially, for sponsors, fans and all rugby stakeholders.”
DHL Stormers Head Coach John Dobson said: “It has been good to have this break and evaluate where we want to improve as a team, now it is about going out there and executing those plans accurately. The players have trained well and everyone is very motivated to show what we are capable of up in Pretoria this weekend. We have two exceptional talents in Damian and Warrick and we have mapped out a way to make the most of that over the next few weeks, which is a crucial period for us. Both of them have bought in and are excited about making as big an impact as possible,"