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Challenging tests await the five South African Vodacom Super Rugby franchises in action this weekend as the unbeaten DHL Stormers and Cell C Sharks meet in an intense derby, while the Emirates Lions and Toyota Cheetahs hunt victories overseas, and the Southern Kings go in search of their first win of the season.

The main match-ups of the weekend will undoubtedly be the clashes between the DHL Stormers and Cell C Sharks in Cape Town, and the undefeated Emirates Lions taking on defending champions, the Highlanders, in Dunedin both on Saturday.

The Johannesburg side will go up against the Highlanders at the Forsyth Barr Stadium at 08h35 where they will hunt their fifth successive victory abroad. Should they register a win, it will also mark their third back-to-back victory against a New Zealand team.

The duel between the DHL Stormers and Cell C Sharks, at 17h15 on Saturday, is expected to deliver a thrilling forward-dominated battle. However, with both teams boasting exciting backs, they too will look to make their presence felt. A defeat for either team will mark their first of the season.The Toyota Cheetahs and Sunwolves, meanwhile, will make history as the first teams to play a Vodacom Super Rugby match in Singapore when they meet at 12h55 on Saturday. A victory for either team would mark their first of the season, as the Toyota Cheetahs come off back-to-back defeats, while the Sunwolves went down to the Emirates Lions before their bye last week.

In Port Elizabeth the Southern Kings will be hoping to register their first victory of the season when they face the Chiefs at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium at 15h05, following the New Zealand side’s long journey to South Africa.

The Vodacom Bulls, meanwhile, have a bye.

In the matches abroad, the Blues meet the Hurricanes in Auckland and the Force take on the Brumbies in Perth on Friday, while the Rebels line up against the Reds in Melbourne on Saturday.

Vodacom Super Rugby information:

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Highlanders vs Emirates Lions

Date: Saturday, 12 March

SA Time: 08h35

Venue: Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin

Referee: Chris Pollock

Assistant referees: Jamie Nutbrown, Kane McBride

Television match official: Aaron Paterson

Team News:

· Emirates Lions coach Johan Ackermann has made six changes to the run-on team that defeated the Chiefs, with the side featuring a new front row of props Jacques van Rooyen and Ruan Dreyer, and hooker Robbie Coetzee.

· In the Emirates Lions backline, centres Howard Mnisi and Rohan Janse van Rensburg replace the injured Harold Vorster (knee) and Lionel Mapoe, who is in South Africa with his partner and new-born baby.

· Centre Jacques Nel, who travelled to New Zealand this week and has been named on the bench, is the brother of Springbok Sevens player Ruhan Nel.

· Former Emirates Lions prop Ross Geldenhuys will line up against a few of his old team-mates as he has been named on the Highlanders’ bench.

· Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph has reshuffled his pack to add more mobility among the forwards, while centre Rob Thompson will make his debut for the side.

Stats:

· The Emirates Lions have won four of their last seven matches against the Highlanders – three of which were at home in Johannesburg.

· The Emirates Lions have won their last four matches away from home and will be looking to extend it to five against the defending Vodacom Super Rugby champions.

· The Emirates Lions will be hunting their third successive victory against a New Zealand team when they meet the Highlanders. They defeated the Chiefs in Hamilton last week and the Highlanders in Johannesburg last season.

· The Highlanders are on a six-match winning streak at home – their longest on the trot since the 2000 to 2002 seasons. Their last defeat against a South African team was in 2013.

The teams are:

Highlanders – Ben Smith (captain), Matt Faddes, Malakai Fekitoa, Rob Thompson, Patrick Osborne, Lima Sopoaga, Aaron Smith, Liam Squire, Dan Pryor, Luke Whitelock, Joe Wheeler, Alex Ainley, Siosiua Halanukonuka, Liam Coltman, Brendon Edmonds. Replacements: Ash Dixon, Daniel Lienert-Brown, Ross Geldenhuys, Elliot Dixon, Shane Christie, Josh Renton, Hayden Parker, Jason Emery.

Emirates Lions – Jaco van der Walt, Ruan Combrinck, Rohan Janse van Rensburg, Howard Mnisi, Courtnal Skosan, Elton Jantjies, Faf de Klerk, Warren Whiteley (captain), Warwick Tecklenberg, Jaco Kriel, Franco Mostert, Andries Ferreira, Ruan Dreyer, Robbie Coetzee, Jacques van Rooyen. Replacements: Armand van der Merwe, Corné Fourie, Julian Redelinghuys, Robert Kruger, Ruan Ackermann, Dillon Smit, Jacques Nel, Andries Coetzee.

Sunwolves vs Toyota Cheetahs

Date: Saturday, 12 March

SA Time: 12h55

Venue: Singapore National Stadium

Referee: Quinton Immelman

Assistant referees: Shuhei Kubo, Aki Aso

Television match official: Takashi Hareda

Team News:

· Toyota Cheetahs coach Franco Smith made seven changes to his starting team to face the Sunwolves, which features five changes up-front and two in the backline.

· Among the forwards, a new front row will take to the field consisting of props Ox Nche and debutant Johan Coetzee, and hooker Jacques du Toit, while lock Francois Uys replaces Springbok Lood de Jager. The other change is at No 8, where Henco Venter replaces Niell Jordaan.

· In the backline, flyhalf Niel Marais comes in for Fred Zeilinga and Sias Ebersohn starts at fullback in place of Clayton Blommetjies.

· Former Springbok looseforward Hilton Lobberts has been drafted onto the bench.

· Sunwolves coach Mark Hammett has named the same starting line-up that faced the Emirates Lions in their first Vodacom Super Rugby appearance in Round 1. Former Toyota Cheetahs fullback Riaan Viljoen, a Springbok tourist in 2009, will line up against his former team-mates.

Stats:

· The Toyota Cheetahs and Sunwolves will make history on Saturday as the first teams to play a Vodacom Super Rugby match in Singapore. The stadium’s roof will be closed for the match.

· This will mark the first match between the Toyota Cheetahs and Sunwolves in the competition, and the Sunwolves’ second outing in the tournament.

· The Toyota Cheetahs have won only one of their last eight matches against teams from outside of South Africa.

· A victory for the Toyota Cheetahs will mark their first win of the season after going down against the Jaguares and DHL Stormers at home. A victory, however, would mark back-to-back wins away from home for the Bloemfontein side, as they completed the 2015 season with an away-win against the Vodacom Bulls.

· The Toyota Cheetahs have scored all five of their tries this season in the first half – more than any other team in the competition in the opening stanza.

Quotes:

Toyota Cheetahs head coach Franco Smith: “We surely won’t underestimate the Sunwolves. In fact, we are expecting another big challenge. The focus is on what we can do better as a team, and we will measure ourselves against that.”

The teams are:

Sunwolves – Riaan Viljoen, Akihito Yamada, Harumichi Tatekawa, Yu Tamura, Yasutaka Sasakura, Tusi Pisi, Atsushi Hiwasa, Edward Quirk, Andrew Durutalo, Liaki Moli, Hitoshi Ono, Timothy Vond, Shinnosuke Kakinaga, Shota Horie (captain), Keith Inagaki. Replacements: Takeshi Kizu, Masataka Mikami, Takuma Asahara, Shinya Makabe, Yoshiya Hosoda, Kaito Shigeno, Derek Carpenter, Mifiposeti Paea.

Toyota Cheetahs – Sias Ebersohn, Sergeal Petersen, Francois Venter (captain), William Small-Smith, Raymond Rhule, Niel Marais, Shaun Venter, Henco Venter, Uzair Cassiem, Paul Schoeman, Francois Uys, Carl Wegner, Johan Coetzee, Jacques du Toit, Ox Nche. Replacements: Torsten van Jaarsveld, Charles Marais, Maks van Dyk, Reniel Hugo, Hilton Lobberts, Boom Prinsloo, Tian Meyer, Fred Zeilinga.

Southern Kings vs Chiefs

Date: Saturday, 12 March

SA Time: 15h05

Venue: Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth

Referee: Jaco van Heerden

Assistant referees: Jaco Peyper, Rodney Bonaparte

Television match official: Johan Greeff

Team News:

· Southern Kings coach Deon Davids made four changes his starting 15 – two up-front and two in the backline.

· Amongst the forwards, prop Jacobie Adriaanse replaces Tom Botha, and hooker Edgar Marutlulle takes over from Martin Ferreira.

· In the Southern Kings backline, flyhalf Louis Fouché replaces Elgar Watts in a rotational switch, while centre Stefan Watermeyer replaces JP du Plessis.

· Du Plessis, Louis Albertse, Leighton Eksteen and Charles Radebe have all dropped out of the match-23.

· Chiefs coach Dave Rennie has made eight changes to the starting team that went down against the Emirates Lions last week, with the squad featuring a new-look pack and a front row made up of uncapped players.

Stats:

· This will mark only the second outing between the Southern Kings and Chiefs, with their first encounter being in the Kings’ debut season in 2013, which the Kiwi side won 35-24.

· The Southern Kings will be hunting their first win this season and their fourth win in the competition since their introduction to the tournament in 2013. Two of their three victories in 2013 were recorded at home.

· All three of the Southern Kings’ victories so far have been against Australasian opposition (the Force, Rebels and Highlanders).

· The Chiefs boast a good track record in South Africa with seven victories and two draws in their last 12 matches.

Quotes:

Southern Kings head coach Deon Davids: “We are going to be playing the next three games against New Zealand sides that have exceptional talent and play the game at a very high tempo, which brings a different set of challenges. It is going to be a massive learning curve for our players, but we are here and we must learn and go with it.”

The teams are:

Southern Kings – Jurgen Visser, Luzuko Vulindlu, Stefan Watermeyer, Shane Gates, Malcolm Jaer, Louis Fouche, Ntando Kebe, Jacques Engelbrecht, Thembelani Bholi, Chris Cloete, JC Astle, Steven Sykes (captain), Jacobie Adriaanse, Edgar Marutlulle, Schalk Ferreira. Replacements: Sti Sithole, Martin Bezuidenhout, Tom Botha, Schalk Oelofse, CJ Velleman, Kevin Luiters, Elgar Watts, Jaco van Tonder.

Chiefs – Damian McKenzie, Glen Fisiiahi, Seta Tamanivalu, Charlie Ngatai, James Lowe, Aaron Cruden (co-capt), Brad Weber, Michael Leitch, Sam Cane (co-capt), Taleni Seu, Johan Bardoul, Michael Allardice, Siate Tokolahi, Nathan Harris, Mitchell Graham. Replacements: Rhys Marshall, Pauliasi Manu, Atu Moli, James Tucker, Maama Vaipulu, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Anton Lienert-Brown, Sam McNichol.

DHL Stormers vs Cell C Sharks

Date: Saturday, 12 March

SA Time: 17h15

Venue: DHL Newlands, Cape Town

Referee: Mike Fraser

Assistant referees: Ben O’Keeffe, Stuart Berry

Television match official: Marius Jonker

Team News:

· DHL Stormers coach Robbie Fleck has made four personnel changes to his starting team to face the Cell C Sharks, with the only injury-enforced change being at flyhalf where Kurt Coleman replaces Robert du Preez, who has been ruled out for 12 weeks with a knee injury.

· Jean-Luc du Plessis – the son of former Springbok wing Carel du Plessis – has been named as Coleman’s back-up flyhalf, and will make his DHL Stormers debut should he take to the field.

· DHL Stormers props JC Janse van Rensburg and co-captain Frans Malherbe will earn their first starts this season in place of Oli Kebble and Vincent Koch respectively, who have been named among the replacements.

· DHL Stormers and Springbok flank Siya Kolisi will start his first match of the season in place of Sikhumbuzo Notshe, who moves to the bench. Schalk Burger will start at No 8 and Nizaam Carr takes over the No 6 jersey.

· Cell C Sharks head coach Gary Gold has proved faith in the same match-23 that defeated the Jaguares for their clash against the DHL Stormers in Cape Town.

Stats:

· The DHL Stormers and Cell C Sharks have faced each other 25 times, with the Cape side winning 12 matches and the Durban team 13, with an average score of 21-21.

· The teams are tied at three wins a piece in their last six matches since they met in the 2012 Vodacom Super Rugby semi-final.

· A victory for the Cell C Sharks will mark their sixth back-to-back victory in the tournament. The last time they achieved more than six wins a row was in the 2006 and 2007 seasons.

· The DHL Stormers have been the best defensive team in the tournament this season with a 92% tackle success rate, while the Cell C Sharks have gained an average of 550m over the gain line, which is more than any other team this season.

· The DHL Stormers and Cell C Sharks have each won both of their matches this season, meaning a defeat for either side will mark the first of the season.

Quotes:

DHL Stormers head coach Robbie Fleck: “All of the players coming into the starting line-up have made an impact off the bench for us this season, and hopefully they can lay a good platform on Saturday.

“Kurt showed his mettle to come on and help close out the game in Bloemfontein last week, so we are backing him to step up again. Jean-Luc is a talented player with a bright future and he deserves this opportunity.”

Cell C Sharks head coach Gary Gold: “I was delighted with the character shown by the players last week to stand up to the challenge against the Jaguares. I felt that our defensive effort and set-piece functioned really well. This weekend is going to be a step-up for us and will be our toughest challenge to date.

“We are going down to Cape Town to play a good very Stormers team, who are quite similar to us in many respects with a good blend of youth and experience. We are excited about the challenge and our preparation in the lead-up to this match has been good. This match will give us a good indication of how far we’ve progressed over the last few months.”

The teams are:

DHL Stormers – Cheslin Kolbe, Dillyn Leyds, Johnny Kotze, Juan de Jongh (co-captain), Leolin Zas, Kurt Coleman, Jano Vermaak, Schalk Burger, Siya Kolisi, Nizaam Carr, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Eben Etzebeth, Frans Malherbe (co-captain), Bongi Mbonambi, JC Janse van Rensburg. Replacements: Scarra Ntubeni, Oli Kebble, Vincent Koch, JD Schickerling, Sikhumbuzo Notshe, Nic Groom, Jean-Luc du Plessis, Huw Jones.

Cell C Sharks – Willie le Roux, Odwa Ndungane, Paul Jordaan, Andre Esterhuizen, JP Pietersen, Joe Pietersen, Cobus Reinach, Daniel du Preez, Jean-Luc du Preez, Marcell Coetzee, Stephan Lewies, Etienne Oosthuizen, Coenie Oosthuizen, Franco Marais, Tendai Mtawarira (captain). Replacements: Kyle Cooper, Juan Schoeman, Lourens Adriaanse, Hyron Andrews, Philip van der Walt, Michael Claaseens, Garth April, S’bura Sithole.

Other fixtures (SA kick-off times):
Friday, 11 March:

08h35: Blues vs Hurricanes – Eden Park, Auckland

13h05: Force vs Brumbies – NIB Stadium, Perth

Saturday, 12 March:

10h45: Rebels vs Reds – AAMI Park, Melbourne

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