It’s been a steep learning curve for the Lions, Sharks, Bulls and Stormers in Europe over the last three weeks but after last weekend’s marked improvements, they will be keen to return to South Africa with their tails up.
Ulster VS Lions
The Ulster starting XV is unchanged to the side that defeated Benetton last Friday evening.
Will Addison is selected at full-back alongside Ethan McIlroy and Craig Gilroy on the wings. Stewart Moore and James Hume form the centre partnership.
Nathan Doak and Billy Burns are named as the starting half-backs, Andrew Warwick is named in the front row at loosehead with Ulster’s latest double-centurion, Rob Herring at hooker and Tom O’Toole at tighthead prop.
Sam Carter will again lead the side, and is paired with Alan O’Connor in the engine room, Matty Rea is retained at blindside, with Nick Timoney at openside and David McCann is named at Number Eight.
Kieran Treadwell makes his return from injury to the forward replacements alongside Brad Roberts, Eric O’Sullivan, Ross Kane and Sean Reidy.
Mike Lowry could make his 50th appearance for the province if called upon from the bench. The other back line replacements are David Shanahan and Ben Moxham.
For Lions head coach, Ivan van Rooyen named a new-look match 23 ahead of his team’s third round fixture against Glasgow Warriors at Scotstoun Stadium on Saturday.
EW Viljoen covers the flyhalf position as a result of injuries to both Jordan Hendrikse and Eddie Fouche.
Upfront, Jannie du Plessis and Sti Sithole start at tighthead and loosehead respectively, with Ruhan Straeuli packing down at the back of the scrum.
Pick: Ulster Wins by 0.04 at BetXChange
Dragons VS Stormers
Cosch Dean Ryan has made just three changes to the starting XV for Friday night’s clash as they look to make it back-to-back victories following last week’s impressive 22-35 win over Connacht in Galway.
Ben Carter and Ross Moriarty return to the line-up and Gonzalo Bertranou makes his first start of the season at scrum half.
Dragons have also decided with a 6-2 split on the bench for the clash against the powerful South Africans.
The front row remains the same as those who started in Galway with Greg Bateman and Mesake Doge lining-up either side of hooker Elliot Dee.
Will Rowlands is re-joined by his Welsh international team-mate Carter in the second row after the young lock missed last week’s contest.
Moriarty comes into captain the side at six and Basham will look to back up his man of the match display last week, with number eight Aaron Wainwright completing the pack.
Scrum half Bertranou is another to get his first start of the season and is partnered by the ever-present Sam Davies at fly half.
Centre pairing Aneurin Owen and Jack Dixon continue their partnership in the middle of the park for the fourth straight league game.
While Welsh international Jonah Holmes joins Jordan Olowofela on the wings and fullback Jordan Williams keeps his place after an impressive display on his return in Ireland.
For the Stormers, coach John Dobson has named loose forward Junior Pokomela in the team to make his debut on Friday where they will be hoping to end their tour on a positive.
The inclusion of Pokomela on the flank is the only change to the forward pack that started the 20-20 draw with Edinburgh last week.
There are five changes to the backline though, as the Stormers aim to end their European tour on a high with the fit-again halfback pairing of Stefan Ungerer and Manie Libbok take their places in the starting line-up, along with centres Dan du Plessis and Ruhan Nel and wing Leolin Zas, who all started the week before against Munster.
Pick: Dragons Wins by 0.68 at BetXChange
Edinburgh VS Bulls
Scotland international centre Mark Bennett returns to Edinburgh Rugby’s starting XV as one of five changes named by head coach Mike Blair for tomorrow’s United Rugby Championship clash against the Bulls at DAM Health Stadium.
Bennett’s inclusion in the starting line-up sees James Lang move to inside centre, as winger Damien Hoyland and scrum-half Charlie Shiel are both named starters, with Ramiro Moyano injured and Ben Vellacott rotated to the bench.
The remaining changes are made to the pack as club centurion and captain Stuart McInally returns at hooker, while Magnus Bradbury replaces the rested Jamie Ritchie at blindside flanker.
The Bulls have kept consistency in their backline while making a handful of changes in the forwards pack ahead of their United Rugby Championship Round 4 clash against Edinburgh Rugby on Saturday.
The side will see Chris Smith earning a starting berth at flyhalf as the only change to the backline that faced Cardiff Rugby a week ago.
The forwards will see the return of Lizo Gqoboka and Mornay Smith as the starting props, while a new loose trio will see captain Marcell Coetzee playing alongside Arno Botha at blindside flanker and Muller Uys at No8.
Experienced Springbok flyhalf, Morne Steyn, will provide cover from the bench.
Pick: Edinburgh Wins by 0.77 at BetXChange
Cardiff VS Sharks
Cardiff have included all 10 of their Welsh internationals from the autumn squad in the matchday 23 for Saturday’s United Rugby Championship clash against the Sharks at the Arms Park.
Josh Turnbull returns to the line-up to captain the side as Dai Young makes seven changes from last week’s defeat to the Bulls.
The skipper is re-joined in the back row by openside flanker Jenkins as Will Boyde makes a switch to number eight.
A direct swap at tighthead sees Dillon Lewis lining up alongside Rhys Carré and Kirby Myhill in the front row, while second row Rory Thornton replaces Matthew Screech, who is ruled out.
Tomos Williams is given the nod at scrum half, partnering Rhys Priestland, who was recalled into the national set-up earlier this week.
A new-look centre partnership sees Owen Lane wearing the number 13 jersey, linking up with fellow Welsh international Willis Halaholo in midfield.
Josh Adams retains his place on the wing as Aled Summerhill is drafted onto the opposite wing and Hallam Amos makes way for Matthew Morgan at full back.
Sharks coach Sean Everitt has made just three changes to the starting XV with Dylan Richardson coming in for James Venter and Henco Venter shifting from eighthman to flank to accommodate the return of captain Phepsi Buthelezi with Gerbrandt Grobler playing off the bench.
The final change sees Anthony Volmink starting on the wing for an injured Thaakir Abrahams, who left the field injured last week, with Curwin Bosch wearing the fullback jersey.
Pick: Cardiff Wins by 0.65 at BetXChange