After almost two months of no action, this weekend marks the return of the South African teams in the tournament with two anticipated and derby fixtures at Ellis Park in Johannesburg and Loftus in Pretoria.
Action starts in Johannesburg on Saturday when the Lions host the Sharks and conclude with the Bulls welcoming the Stormers to the capital city where the four teams are going to renew their rivalries.
These will be the first URC games involving South African sides since early December, although they have warmed up for their return with two rounds of Currie Cup action where the Bulls sit on top of the log with two wins from as many matches.
In the URC, the Lions top the South African shield with eleven points after five rounds and they lead this weekend’s opponents the Sharks by two points, while the Stormers are two points further back and the Bulls are bottom of the pile on five points.
Lions VS Sharks
Lions lock forward Pieter Jansen van Vuren makes a return to the match 23 to face the Sharks in the United Rugby Championship (URC).
He makes an appearance in the starting lineup after being side-lined due to injury during the team’s tour to the UK and featuring in the number seven jumper is Ruhan Straeuli who comes in for the injured Vincent Tshituka.
For the Sharks, coach Sean Everitt has managed to name a strong line-up despite missing a handful of Springboks players.
Lukhanyo Am leads the side and he is joined by a Test-laden backline consisting of Makazole Mapimpi, Sbu Nkosi and Aphelele Fassi who are definitely going to test the resolve of the Lions defenders.
Ahead of the match, fullback Aphelele Fassi explained that the team is in good spirit in terms of mental and preparation space and also pointed out the learnings they have taken on-board will stand them in good stead as the competition now resumes after the tournament broke for the festive season holidays.
Pick: Sharks Wins by 0.25 at BetXChange
Bulls VS Stormers
Bulls coach Jake White has called flanker Reinhardt Ludwig to make his URC debut in this potentially explosive South African North versus South derby against the Stormers.
The 19-year-old, who has been a key figure in the Bulls’ U20 side over the past year, is an exciting addition to a strong Bulls side that will look to begin their 2022 campaign in the cross-hemisphere competition.
There will be no shortage of experience alongside him with Arno Botha starting at openside flanker while Elrigh Louw will at No8.
In other team news, Springbok centre Cornal Hendricks will captain the side.
Tighthead prop Mornay Smith will make a return to the starting XV where he will buckle down alongside loosehead prop Gerhard Steenekamp and hooker Johan Grobbelaar to make up the front row trio.
David Kriel makes a return to the familiar fullback position to combine with wingers Kurt-Lee Arendse and Madosh Tambwe in the back three.
For the visitors, coach John Dobson has confirmed that Steven Kitshoff, who will make his first URC appearance and Salmaan Moerat will co-captain their side in Pretoria.
Fullback Damian Willemse and scrumhalf Herschel Jantjies will also feature for the first time in the tournament as they take their places in the starting line-up.
Loose forwards Deon Fourie and Hacjivah Dayimani both make their return from injury having featured for Western Province in their Currie Cup opener last week.
Fourie joins Evan Roos and Ernst van Rhyn in the loose trio and Dayimani set to make an impact off the replacements bench.
Moerat will link up with Springbok Marvin Orie in the second row, while Scarra Ntubeni and Sazi Sandi are alongside Kitshoff up front.
The backline features two former Springbok Sevens stars in Seabelo Senatla and Ruhan Nel, while Warrick Gelant is poised to be unleashed from the bench when the game opens up in the second half.
Pick: Bulls Wins by 0.25 at BetXChange