The coast is many people’s destination in December and it’s no different for the Vodacom United Rugby Championship when the competition returns this weekend, albeit in a slightly different guise than what was expected, with two big South African derbies in Durban and Cape Town.
And while bragging rights will be up for grabs before a short break for the festive season, the four South African teams will realise the importance of finishing the year on a high and bagging some very important log points after a slow start to the competition.
Cell C Sharks head coach Sean Everitt didn’t hold back and decided to name almost his full complement of Springboks for their clash against the Vodacom Bulls in Durban on Friday evening.
No fewer than six players who accompanied the Boks on their recent tour of the United Kingdom were included in the KwaZulu-Natalians’ starting team, underlining the seriousness with which they are approaching this encounter.
Bongi Mbonambi will make his debut for the Cell C Sharks, starting at hooker, while Thomas du Toit, Siya Kolisi, Lukhanyo Am, Sbu Nkosi and Makazole Mapimpi will all run out for the hosts.
“While we’re up against a tough side in the Vodacom Bulls, this is a Cell C Sharks side that grew over the first four rounds of the URC and we’re looking forward to taking the Bulls on in front of our fans, even if it’s a limited number,” said Everitt.
“It’s going to be great to have spectators cheering the Cell C Sharks on and I’m sure the players will deliver a performance fitting the gratitude they have for their support.”
Jake White, the Vodacom Bulls’ Director of Rugby, is under no illusions as to the mammoth task that awaits his team in Durban, where they will face a host of internationals featuring Kurt-Lee Arendse at fullback in a rejigged backline.
“It does not get much tougher than that,” said White. “The Cell C Sharks, playing at home, with all those international players will be massive for us. I can tell you; we are very excited that we will get to measure ourselves against what is essentially an international side now again. There’s a bit of a buzz, it’s like a test match for us.”
On Saturday afternoon, the action moves approximately 1,600km south west to Cape Town, where the DHL Stormers welcome the Emirates Lions to DHL Stadium.
The Capetonians had the best return from their early-season tour to the Northern Hemisphere, bagging seven log points after a win and a draw, while the men from Johannesburg sit on six points after their first-round victory in Italy.
Ivan van Rooyen and his team would have taken notice of the DHL Stormers’ good defensive record on tour, but the Emirates Lions will have an “insider” in their midst on Saturday with Edwill van der Merwe having joined Jozi’s Pride a month ago.
The Emirates Lions will travel to Cape Town with the same starting team that would have faced Cardiff last weekend.
“We’re quite pleased that an arrangement was made by SA Rugby and the URC for local games to be played this weekend after last week’s uncertainty,” said Van Rooyen. “Despite a change in opposition, we have prepared well and made the mental shift ahead of the match down in Cape Town on Saturday.”
DHL Stormers head coach John Dobson will name his side on Friday.
Cell C Sharks v Vodacom Bulls
Date: Friday, 3 December
Venue: Jonsson Kings Park, Durban
SA Time: 19h00
Referee: Jaco Peyper
DHL Stormers v Emirates Lions
Date: Saturday, 4 December
Venue: DHL Stadium, Cape Town
SA Time: 17h00
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen