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South Africa’s six Vodacom Super Rugby franchises face an important weekend as they look to build momentum in the series with two local derbies and repeat of last year’s playoff match between the DHL Stormers and Brumbies playing out at home, while the Southern Kings begin their overseas tour.

The Vodacom Bulls and Cell C Sharks will kick off the weekend’s action on Friday evening with an exciting derby in Pretoria, and on Saturday the Southern Kings face the Crusaders in Christchurch, the Emirates Lions meet their former Vodacom Super Rugby franchise partners, the Toyota Cheetahs, in Johannesburg, and the DHL Stormers go up against the Brumbies in Cape Town.

While the Cell C Sharks will be determined to stretch their unbeaten run in the competition to seven matches dating back to last season, the Vodacom Bulls will have their sights set on back-to-back home wins to build momentum after defeating the Rebels two weeks ago.The Southern Kings, in particular, face a challenging task as they go in search of their first victory of the season against the Crusaders, especially with the New Zealand side appearing to have found their rhythm against the Blues in their last match.

The Emirates Lions, meanwhile, are back home from an encouraging overseas tour which featured two victories in three matches, and they will want to return to their winning ways after going down against defending Champions, the Highlanders, last week. The Free State side, however, will also be motivated by their first victory of the season against the Sunwolves, which could result in a thrilling clash.

The DHL Stormers also face tough test against the unbeaten Brumbies at DHL Newlands, and the pressure on the team to win will be compounded by the fact that they come off a defeat against the Cell C Sharks, and have a short tour to Buenos Aires lined up next week.

In the other matches the Hurricanes meet the Force in Palmerston North and the Waratahs take on the Highlanders in Sydney on Friday. In Saturday’s matches, the Sunwolves host the Rebels in Tokyo, the Reds battle it out with the Blues in Brisbane and the Jaguares go up against the Chiefs in Buenos Aires.

Off the field, the South African franchises will join Anti-Racism Week by wearing yellow armbands to show their support for the campaign. More here.

And Vodacom’s Tries for Books campaign, where supporters can donate books at special “donation pods” at stadiums around the country, will kick off at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria on Friday evening. Vodacom will also donate R7,000 for every try scored by a South African team during this year’s Vodacom Super Rugby competition, which will go towards setting up e-libraries and donating books to schools in communities that need it most. For more on this great initiative, click here.

Vodacom Bulls vs Cell C Sharks

Date: Friday, 18 March

SA Time: 19h00

Venue: Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria

Referee: Glen Jackson

Assistant referees: Stuart Berry, Rasta Rasivhenge

Television match official: Willie Vos

Team News:

· Vodacom Bulls coach Nollis Marais made only two changes to his starting team that defeated the Rebels with Springbok Sevens player Jamba Ulengo making his Vodacom Super Rugby debut in place of wing Travis Ismaiel, while flank Roelof Smit comes in for Nick de Jager.

· Springbok back Jesse Kriel, who was named SA Rugby’s Young Player of the Year for 2015, will start on the bench after recovering from a head clash, along with De Jager.

· Cell C Sharks coach Gary Gold has made five changes to his starting-15 with Springbok wing Lwazi Mvovo returning from injury, which forced national team-mate JP Pietersen to the right wing.

· The only other change in the Cell C Sharks backline is at scrumhalf where Michael Claassens replaces Cobus Reinach.

· Up-front Philip van der Walt replaces the injured Jean-Luc du Preez (foot), while hooker Kyle Cooper starts in place of Franco Marais, and prop Lourens Adriaanse takes over from Coenie Oosthuizen.

Stats:

· The Vodacom Bulls have won 14 of their 24 matches against the Cell C Sharks with an average score of 22-19. The Cell C Sharks have won nine of the matches, with the teams having drawn one.

· The Cell C Sharks are one of only two unbeaten teams in the tournament, the other being the Brumbies.

· The Vodacom Bulls have won the last three outings between these two sides.

· The Vodacom Bulls will be determined to register back-to-back wins for the first time since the 10th round of last year’s Vodacom Super Rugby season after ending a six-match losing run against the Rebels two weeks ago.

· Should the Cell C Sharks register a victory, it would mark their seventh successive win in the competition – which is one victory short of their longest Vodacom Super Rugby winning run of eight matches between the 2006 and 2007 seasons.

· The last time the Cell C Sharks defeated the Vodacom Bulls at Loftus Versfeld was in the 2011 season.

Quotes:

Vodacom Bulls head coach Nollis Marais: “To have a bye this early in the competition has pros and cons, but we decided to look at it in a positive way. It gave us time to work on the aspects of our game that was shown up by the Stormers and Rebels and it gave the likes of Jesse a chance to get match-fit again. The Sharks will arrive at Loftus with a lot of momentum and confidence, but we need to put a stop to that if we want to be successful.

“We played with great spark in the first half against both the Stormers and Rebels, but our efforts in the second half of those matches did not deliver the same intensity and desire, and that is something we worked on during the bye.”

Cell C Sharks head coach Gary Gold: “Another very tough challenge awaits our new generation Cell C Sharks team this Friday, made trickier by the fact that it’s a short turnaround before the match. The Bulls were fantastic against the Rebels and were particularly impressive in many areas. This is a big SA derby and we are under no illusions about the physicality they are going to bring.

“We want to improve each week and keep on building as a team. We are really keen to keep the momentum going now and, as a result, our confidence will keep growing. It’s the reason we’ve rotated a few guys this week.”

Teams:

Vodacom Bulls – Warrick Gelant, Jamba Ulengo, Jan Serfontein, Burger Odendaal, Bjorn Basson, Francois Brummer, Rudy Paige, Arno Botha, Jannes Kirsten, Roelof Smit, Grant Hattingh, RG Snyman, Marcel van der Merwe, Adriaan Strauss (captain), Trevor Nyakane. Replacements: Jaco Visagie, Lizo Gqoboka, Hencus van Wyk, Jason Jenkins, Nic de Jager, Piet van Zyl, Tian Schoeman, Jesse Kriel.

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

Crusaders vs Southern Kings

Date: Saturday, 19 March

SA Time: 08h35

Venue: AMI Stadium, Christchurch

Referee: William Houston

Assistant referees: Brendon Pickerill, Angus Mabey

Television match official: Chris Wratt

Team News:

· Southern Kings coach Deon Davids made two changes to his starting line-up with hooker Martin Ferreira replacing Edgar Marutlulle in the front row and scrumhalf Kevin Luiters earning a start in place of Ntando Kebe.

· Marutlulle and Kebe will start on the bench along with back JP du Plessis, who takes over from Jaco van Tonder, who did not travel with the team.

· Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder made wholesale changes to his team, with prop Wyatt Crockett and hooker Ben Funnell earning their first starts of the season.

· Lock Luke Romano, looseforward Matt Todd, scrumhalf Mitchell Drummond and full-back Marty McKenzie, meanwhile, will play their first match of the season.

· Replacement hooker Ged Robinson will earn his first cap for the Crusaders cap if he gets a run off the bench.

Stats:

· The Crusaders and Southern Kings have only faced one another once in the Vodacom Super Rugby competition, with the New Zealand side winning the match 55-20.

· The Kings will be hunting their second overseas victory in the competition in what will be their first tour match this season. They won one match and drew one in their debut season in 2013 against the Rebels and Brumbies respectively.

· The Crusaders will be looking to secure back-to-back victories at home after defeating the Blues 28-13 last week.

· Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder made wholesale changes to his team, with prop Wyatt Crockett and hooker Ben Funnell earning their first starts of the season.

· Lock Luke Romano, looseforward Matt Todd, scrumhalf Mitchell Drummond and full-back Marty McKenzie, meanwhile, will play their first match of the season.

· Replacement hooker Ged Robinson will earn his first cap for the Crusaders cap if he gets a run off the bench.

Quotes:

Southern Kings head coach Deon Davids: “The Crusaders are a well-balanced team and we are expecting this match to be an exceptional challenge. We have only had one practice session so far this week due to the long trip, so we have tried to cover some of the issues we identified from the last game. We have also spoken a lot about concentration, specifically in the ten minutes before and after half time.”

Teams:

Crusaders – Marty McKenzie, Johnny McNicholl, Kieron Fonotia, David Havili, Nemani Nadolo, Richie Mo’unga, Mitchell Drummond, Jimmy Tupou, Matt Todd, Jordan Taufua, Samuel Whitelock (captain), Luke Romano, Owen Franks, Ben Funnell, Wyatt Crockett. Replacements: Ged Robinson, Alex Hodgman, Mike Alaalatoa, Tim Boys, Pete Samu, Leon Fukofuka, Ryan Crotty, Jone Macilai.

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

Emirates Lions vs Toyota Cheetahs

Date: Saturday, 19 March

SA Time: 17h05

Venue: Emirates Airline Park, Johannesburg

Referee: Stuart Berry

Assistant referees: Glen Jackson, Rasta Rasivhenge

Television match official: Johan Greeff

Team News:

· Emirates Lions coach Johan Ackermann has made six changes to his starting team, with four changes up-front and two amongst the backs.

· The team features a new front row of props Dylan Smith and Julian Redelinghuys, and hooker Robbie Coetzee. The other change is at flank where Ruan Ackermann earns his first start in place of Warwick Tecklenburg, who received a one-week suspension for charging dangerously into a ruck.

· The changes in the Emirates Lions backline were at centre were Lionel Mapoe returns following the birth of his child, which sees Rohan Janse van Rensburg drop to the bench, and fullback Andries Coetzee takes over from Jaco van der Walt.

· Toyota Cheetahs coach Franco Smith made five personnel changes to his starting team which features a new front row of props Charles Marais and Maks van Dyk and hooker Torsten van Jaarsveld.

· The other change among the forwards is at lock where SA Rugby’s 2015 Player of the Year, Lood de Jager, returns to the starting team in place of Francois Uys.

· In the Toyota Cheetahs backline fullback Clayton Blommetjies replaces Sias Ebersohn, who drops out of the match-day squad.

Stats:

· The Emirates Lions have won eight of their 12 matches against the Toyota Cheetahs franchise in Vodacom Super Rugby since the 2007 season with an average score of 28-25. Playing as the Free State in 1997 in the Super 12 competition, the Bloemfontein side went down 24-20 against their Johannesburg counterparts.

· The Emirates Lions have won their last four matches against the Toyota Cheetahs and will be looking to stretch that winning run to five on Saturday.

· After suffering their first defeat of the season last week against the Highlanders in Dunedin, the Emirates Lions will be looking to avoid back-to-back defeats.

· The Toyota Cheetahs, meanwhile, will attempt to secure back-to-back victories for the first time this season after registering their first win last week against the Sunwolves in Singapore.

· The Emirates Lions have been the most effective team with ball in hand this season, and have allowed their opposition on average only 12 minutes and 15 seconds of possession. The Toyota Cheetahs, meanwhile, have been the least successful in the scrums, with a 76% success rate.

Teams:

Emirates Lions – Andries Coetzee, Ruan Combrinck, Lionel Mapoe, Howard Mnisi, Courtnall Skosan, Elton Jantjies, Faf de Klerk, Warren Whiteley (captain), Ruan Ackermann, Jaco Kriel, Franco Mostert, Andries Ferreira, Julian Redelinghuys, Malcolm Marx, Dylan Smith. Replacements: Armand van der Merwe, Corne Fourie, Ruan Dreyer, Lourens Erasmus, Cyle Brink, Dillon Smit, Jaco van der Walt, Rohan Janse van Rensburg.

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

DHL Stormers vs Brumbies

Date: Saturday, 19 March

SA Time: 19h15

Venue: DHL Newlands, Cape Town

Referee: Jaco Peyper

Assistant referees: Jaco van Heerden, Cwengile Jadezweni

Television match official: Marius Jonker

Team News:

· DHL Stormers coach Robbie Fleck has made only two changes to his side to face the Brumbies. Scrumhalf Nic Groom will earn his first start of the season as Jano Vermaak is nursing a neck injury, while wing Kobus van Wyk has recovered from an ankle injury and starts in place of Leolin Zas. Zas, in turn, will start among the replacements.

· Fleck showed faith in the front row that featured against the Cell C Sharks last week, and opted to make no changes up front.

· Brumbies coach Stephen Larkham named the same match-23 that defeated the Force in Perth last week.

Stats:

· The DHL Stormers have won three of their last five matches against the Brumbies dating back to the 2011 season – two of which were at DHL Newlands.

· The last time the teams met at DHL Newlands was in the second qualifier last season – a match the Brumbies won 39-19.

· The Brumbies have a fair track record at DHL Newlands as they have won five and drawn one of the 11 matches between the sides in Cape Town.

· The DHL Stormers have won five and drawn one of their last eight matches at home, but their defeat against the Cell C Sharks last weekend means they will be looking to avoid back-to-back defeats for the first time since the 2011 Semi-final.

· The Brumbies have won all three of their matches so far against the Hurricanes, Waratahs and Force respectively, and will be looking to stretch their unbeaten run this season to four matches.

· While the Brumbies currently lead the try-scoring statistics in the competition with the Chiefs at 15 tries in their last three matches, the DHL Stormers have been the most effective defensive team with only three tries conceded.

Quotes:

DHL Stormers head coach Robbie Fleck: “I have been encouraged by the positive intent our players have shown so far, and this is another great opportunity to test ourselves against a strong team. We are developing as a team, and hope to take another step forward in what will be another great battle at DHL Newlands.”

Teams:

DHL Stormers – Cheslin Kolbe, Kobus van Wyk, Johnny Kotze, Juan de Jongh (co-captain), Dillyn Leyds, Kurt Coleman, Nic Groom, 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, Louis Schreuder, Jean-Luc du Plessis, Leolin Zas.

Brumbies – Aidan Toua, Henry Speight, Tevita Kuridrani, Matt Toomua, Joe Tomane, Christian Lealiifano (co-captain), Tomas Cubelli, Jarrad Butler, David Pocock, Scott Fardy, Sam Carter, Rory Arnold, Ben Alexander, Stephen Moore (co-captain), Scott Sio. Replacements: Josh Mann-Rea, Allan Alaalatoa, Leslie Leulua’iali’i-Makin, Tom Staniforth, Jordan Smiler, Michael Dowsett, Robbie Coleman, Nigel Ah Wong.

Other fixtures (SA kick-off times):

Friday, 18 March

08h35: Hurricanes vs Force – Central Energy Trust Arena, Palmerston North

10h45: Waratahs vs Highlanders – Allianz Stadium, Sydney

Saturday, 19 March

06h15: Sunwolves vs Rebels – Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium, Tokyo

10h45: Reds vs Blues – Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane

23h40: Jaguares vs Chiefs – Velez Sarsfield Stadium, Buenos Aires

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