Sink or swim in the URC quarter-finals

Sink or swim in the URC quarter-finals

The DHL Stormers, Cell C Sharks and Vodacom Bulls will have everything to play for on Saturday in a tough round of Vodacom United Rugby Championship quarter-finals – their biggest challenge of the season so far.


Defending champions, the DHL Stormers, will host the Vodacom Bulls in an all-South African quarter-final and a repeat of last year’s Grand Final in Cape Town on Saturday at 15h30, while the Cell C Sharks will line up against Leinster in Dublin at 18h00.


North-South derbies have been proper humdingers in the last few years and the battle in Cape Town is expected to deliver more of the same, with both the DHL Stormers and Vodacom Bulls coming off morale-boosting victories last weekend to seal the third and sixth places on the log respectively, and with one of the teams guaranteed to advance to the semi-final neither side is expected to give an inch.


The Capetonians will enter the clash as favourites given their impressive win record at home. They have lost only twice in 21 home matches in the last two seasons. They will also be desperate to take one step closer to possibly defending the title they won last season in a repeat of this match on the same pitch.


The Vodacom Bulls, however, will give everything to create an upset to make up for their disappointing five-point defeat in the final last season and 10-point loss against the DHL Stormers in Cape Town in the league stages, and will enter the match with the mindset that they have nothing to lose.


Spicing up the clash, the Pretoria outfit will enter the clash as the best attacking team in the competition with 613 points scored in their 18 matches to date – 82 more than the DHL Stormers – although this aspect of their play will be put to the test as the hosts boast a better defensive record.


The Cell C Sharks, meanwhile, will have to deliver one of their best performances of the season to topple Leinster – who finished the pool stages as the No 1 team after suffering only one defeat and one draw all season.


The Durbanites, however, will draw massive inspiration from the fact that the Vodacom Bulls defied the odds to beat Leinster in Dublin in the semi-final last season – a feat the Cell C Sharks will be looking to emulate this week.


Unfortunately for the KwaZulu-Natalians, they will be missing the services of a few key national players due to injury, including captain and flanker Siya Kolisi (knee), lock Eben Etzebeth and scrumhalf Jaden Hendrikse (both shoulder injuries), which will deny them some invaluable experience in this crucial encounter.


With Leinster listed second in both the attacking and defensive statistics in the series and a confidence-boosting 54-34 victory against the Cell C Sharks to their name in Dublin earlier this season, the South Africans will have to deliver a top-class performance all around to register one of the biggest upsets this season. But with a place in the semi-final at stake, it is a challenge they will relish.


The other two quarter-finals will see Ulster battle it out with Connacht in Belfast on Friday, while the Glasgow Warriors will go up against Munster in Scotland on Saturday.


In a change to last season’s rules, the teams with the highest seeding in each semi-final will have home venue rights. The semi-final winners will meet on Saturday, May 27 at the venue of the highest-ranked team to have qualified for the Vodacom United Rugby Championship Grand Final.


Match information – Vodacom URC quarter-finals:


Ulster v Connacht

Date: Friday, 5 May

Venue: Kingspan Stadium, Belfast

SA Time: 20h35

Referee: Andrew Brace

TV: SuperSport


DHL Stormers v Vodacom Bulls

Date: Saturday, 6 May

Venue: DHL Stadium, Cape Town

SA Time: 15h30

Referee: Jaco Peyper

TV: SuperSport


Leinster v Cell C Sharks

Date: Saturday, 6 May

Venue: Aviva Stadium, Dublin

SA Time: 18h00

Referee: Craig Evans

TV: SuperSport


Glasgow Warriors v Munster

Date: Saturday, 6 May

Venue: Scotstoun Stadium, Glasgow

SA Time: 20h35

Referee: Andrea Piardi

TV: SuperSport

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