The weekend’s exciting Vodacom United Rugby Championship ninth round action once more will see all four South African sides hosting Welsh opposition, starting with Friday evening’s clash in Durban between the Cell C Sharks and Ospreys, which kicks off at 19h10.
The Vodacom Bulls and DHL Stormers are taking the field on Saturday in Pretoria and Nelson Mandela Bay respectively, while the Emirates Lions stage another Sunday afternoon match in Johannesburg.
There is a nice treat in store for Eastern Cape rugby enthusiasts on Saturday as the DHL Stormers take their 14h00 clash with the Dragons to the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, and the Vodacom Bulls host high-flying Cardiff at Loftus Versfeld at 20h00.
On Sunday, at 13h30 the Emirates Lions face the Scarlets at Emirates Airline Park to wrap up round nine of the competition.
Interestingly, a total of 18 victories this season have come from teams who finished lower than their opponents last year; with Cardiff’s surprisingly easy win over the Cell C Sharks last weekend marking a historic moment as they became the first Welsh team to win away in South Africa in the Vodacom URC.
With the race to the top eight heating up, no less than six teams are just one win away from the play-off positions, which will no doubt add another exciting element to the action.
Last weekend’s 35-0 defeat in Durban to Cardiff have seen the KwaZulu-Natalians slip to 12th position on the log, while the Ospreys are two places lower on the standings.
The Cell C Sharks – whose head coach Sean Everitt stepped down early in the week, with Director of Rugby Neil Powell taking the reins – have lost their last two Vodacom URC fixtures and have not lost three in a row since October 2021, so they will be eager to redeem themselves.
They faced Welsh opposition on six previous occasions and both of their defeats during that time were to Cardiff. Meanwhile, the Ospreys’ only win in their last nine outings was a 32-17 home triumph over the Glasgow Warriors at the start of October.
Saturday’s encounter between the second-placed DHL Stormers and the Dragons in the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium will be the 16th Vodacom URC fixture at the venue, but the first since March 2020 when Connacht beat the Southern Kings there.
The defending champions from Cape Town are on a good run and have lost just once in the competition since February, a 24-30 reverse at Cardiff on 22 October.
The DHL Stormers have won their last 14 home games on a trot in Cape Town and Stellenbosch, but this is the first fixture they will be staging in the Eastern Cape.
Last Sunday’s 33-25 loss for the Dragons in Johannesburg saw their two-game winning run come to an end, meaning they have now lost their last six away games. With the expected return of some of their Springbok players, the DHL Stormers – who managed to beat the Scarlets 36-19 in Cape Town last week – will be considered strong favourites.
The Vodacom Bulls (third on the log) are aiming for their fourth win on the bounce (since their round-five defeat to Munster in Limerick) when they host 11th-placed Cardiff on Saturday night at Loftus.
The men from Pretoria have lost just two of their 17 previous home games in Pretoria, to the DHL Stormers in January and the Cell C Sharks the following month, and they are unbeaten in five meetings with Welsh opposition, while Cardiff’s only defeat in their last five encounters was 17-25 at home to Edinburgh in the seventh round.
The team from the Welsh capital tasted success in their last two away games and are going for their fourth victory on SA soil having beaten the Southern Kings twice in Nelson Mandela Bay, in 2018 and 2019, and blanking the Cell C Sharks in Durban last Sunday.
The Emirates Lions won 33-25 at home over the Dragons last weekend to snap a two-game losing run and will be determined to maintain momentum against the Scarlets on Sunday afternoon in Johannesburg. The men from Johannesburg are seventh on the log, compared to the Scarlets’ 15th position.
Since losing their first fixture against a Welsh region on their trip to Llanelli in October 2021, the Emirates Lions have managed to build a six-game winning streak over Welsh opponents. Meanwhile, the Scarlets’ only victory in their last 10 fixtures was 36-12 at home to Zebre in mid-October.
They will be hoping for better luck on their Highveld safari, as the Welshmen have lost their last four against South African teams and have not won here since beating the Southern Kings in the Eastern Cape in 2018.
In the only previous meeting between the Emirates Lions and the Scarlets, the Welsh outfit bagged a solid 36-13 victory last October at the Parc y Scarlets.
Cell C Sharks v Ospreys
Date: Friday 2 December
Venue: Hollywoodbets Kings Park, Durban
SA Time: 19h10
Referee: Eoghan Cross (Ireland)
DHL Stormers v Dragons
Date: Saturday 3 December
Venue: Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Nelson Mandela Bay
SA Time: 14h00
Referee: Frank Murphy (Ireland)
Vodacom Bulls v Cardiff
Date: Saturday 3 December
Venue: Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
SA Time: 20h00
Referee: Sam Grove-White (Scotland)
Emirates Lions v Scarlets
Sunday, 4 December
Venue: Emirates Airline Park, Johannesburg
SA Time: 13h30
Referee: Ben Blain (Scotland)
Other Vodacom United Rugby Championship fixtures – Round 9 (SA times):
Friday 2 December
21h35: Edinburgh v Munster
Saturday 3 December
15h00: Zebre Parma v Glasgow Warriors
17h15: Connacht v Benetton
21h35: Leinster v Ulster