The Vodacom United Rugby Championship will spring back into action this weekend after two weeks of European rugby with a massive local derby between the Vodacom Bulls and Emirates Lions in Pretoria, where a place in the top eight is at stake.
It may be the only match of the weekend (and the last of round nine), but the teams will have a lot to play for as a victory for the Vodacom Bulls could see them leap from sixth place on the log to possibly third or fourth place, while a win for the Emirates Lions if they deny the hosts a bonus point will see them overtake their counterparts on the table, nudging them from 11th position to fifth or sixth place.
Furthermore, if 16,335 people walk through the gates at Loftus Versfeld, it will set a new attendance record for a single round of the Vodacom URC, after the South African franchises led the way over the holiday season, with the two local derbies accounting for almost half of the total figure when a new record was set in round eight.
That figure of 135,747 fans – which was topped up by the postponed derby between the Hollywoodbets Sharks and Emirates Lions in Durban on 6 January, which the visitors won by 20-18 – took the figure way past the 123,207 which was set last season in round 11.
Almost 60 000 of those fans for the one round came from the two South African derbies – the other was in Cape Town on 23 December, when the DHL Stormers continued their dominance over the Vodacom Bulls with a 26-20 victory – underlining the success of South African franchises joining the league and not only bolstering the broadcast numbers but also fans in stadiums as well.
The other match over the festive season was a round nine coastal derby between the DHL Stormers and the Hollywoodbets Sharks on 30 December, won 16-15 by the Capetonians 15 in front of almost 38,000 fans at the DHL Stadium.
With nine pool rounds remaining, competition for quarter-final spots is still tight – which will inspire both Gauteng sides to remain among the playoff contenders in their last match of the first half of the regular season.
While the Pretoria side will bank on their home ground advantage to continue their impressive form of two wins on the trot in the Investec Champions Cup after going down against the DHL Stormers in their last Vodacom URC encounter, the Johannesburgers will want to make up for their disappointing defeat in the EPCR Challenge Cup against Ospreys last week and earn their fourth win a row in the Vodacom URC.
They will, however, be wary of the fact that the Vodacom Bulls have an unblemished home record in the tournament so far this season, which they will want to build on as the scramble for playoff spots intensifies.
However, the Emirates Lions know what it takes to win in the capital, as they beat the Vodacom Bulls in Pretoria last season, with Sanele Nohamba’s 24 points, including five penalty goals, ultimately the difference between the sides.
The Vodacom Bulls have been more effective on attack this season scoring 64 points more in their eight matches up to now, but the Emirates Lions boast a marginally better defensive record, which could set the scene for a humdinger of a match as Gauteng bragging rights are up for grabs.
The game kicks off at 15h00 and will be broadcast live on SuperSport.
Match information: Vodacom Bulls v Emirates Lions
Date: Saturday, 27 January
Venue: Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
Referee: Cwengile Jadezweni
SA Time: 15h00