The Vodacom United Rugby Championship is back this week and, for the first time, the competition will be contested on South African soil.
A good weather forecast and dry conditions has got fans of the Bulls, Lions, Sharks and Stormers anticipating high-octane rugby and all four matches will be closely watched to see just how well the South African sides fare against the touring sides.
Opponents: Zebre Parma
Coach: Michael Bradley
Captain: Giulio Bisegni
Log position: 16th
Record: Played 5, won 0, Lost 5
Where: Cape Town Stadium
When: Saturday, 3pm
The Stormers will be buoyed by a clutch of returning Springboks while Zebre face a tough task as they are the only side in the competition still to register a win.
The Stormers were arguably the best South African side and don’t often get beaten on their home ground although they can’t afford to take the Italian side too lightly. But not having played since their 24-10 win over the Dragons on 15 October there may be a bit of rust. The Stormers lost their only previous fixture against an Italian opponent when they went down 22-18 to Rainbow Cup champions Benetton in Treviso in round one.
Zebre head to South Africa looking for their first win in any competition since beating the Dragons in Parma in February.
They have won three of their eight meetings with South African sides, their sole win in the country coming against the Southern Kings in Port Elizabeth four years ago.
Coach: Dwayne Peel
Captain: Jonathan Davies
Log position: 10th
Record: Played 5, won 2, lost 3
Where: Kings Park
When: Saturday, 5.30pm
The Sharks are still smarting after losing their last tour match in Cardiff before the international break and will be champing at the bit to kick off their home campaign in style. This week they have been preparing while many of their Springboks were in Geneva doing PR work for the Sharks, and those at home will be hoping the home-ground advantage will get them their second win after the Ospreys victory earlier in the season.
Seen as one of the two top SA sides, the Sharks have been poor by their own standards thus far, but will be wary of Scarlets.
Scarlets overcame Benetton 34-28 in a round-five thriller at Parc y Scarlets and both of their wins this season have been on home soil.
They have suffered just one defeat by a South African opponent – a 28-21 reverse to the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein in December 2017.
Coach: Johann van Graan
Captain: Peter O’Mahony
Log position: 3rd
Record: Played 5, won 4, lost 1
Where: Loftus Versfeld
When: Saturday 7.45pm
Undoubtedly the game of the weekend for SA fans, this one is a humdinger as the Bulls have gone unbeaten at home since February 2020.
Jake White’s team faces a tough poser, given their patchy form in the opening four rounds of the competition and they will want to use the altitude and home-ground advantage to kickstart their campaign.
Making it even spicier is Johann van Graan’s return to the ground where he grew up, was a ballboy and coached with a Bulls side that dominated a decade ago. Van Graan was overlooked twice for the Bulls job and eventually went to Munster, so the game will be deeply personal for him.
Munster are resting many of their Test players and the Bulls have decided the same, but there will still be a lot of talent on the field.
The Bulls have claimed a solitary victory so far, beating Cardiff in round three, while Munster made a flying start in the URC, putting together a four-game winning run before they came unstuck 18-10 against the Ospreys in round five.
Their record against South African sides is extremely impressive, losing one of 11 previous encounters, and that was a 40-16 reversal against the Cheetahs two years ago.
Munster can also take heart from the Bulls’ record against Irish opposition, which currently stands at played two, lost two.
Coach: Ivan van Zyl
Captain: Burger Odendaal
Log position: 7th
Record: Played 5, won 3, lost 2
Where: Ellis Park
When: Sunday, 4pm
The Lions opened their URC campaign with a victory over Zebre, but struggled after that with some decisions going against them and have now had some extra time in the break to find their feet with a new coaching team.
There will be a lot of emotion in the side following the tragedy of their tighthead prop Jannie du Plessis, who lost his son this past weekend and it is likely this will fuel their performance.
With Willem Alberts and Tiaan Swanepoel back, the Lions will look to use the altitude and good conditions for a fast game that they enjoy.
The Lions won their opening URC game but then slipped to successive defeats at the hands of Scarlets, Glasgow and Ulster.
Cardiff, though, have not enjoyed much recent success on the road, with a solitary win in their last five away games being a 29-20 success at Scarlets in May.
But the Welsh side have lost only one of their last five encounters against South African teams while they have a 50% success rate in South Africa.