The Vodacom Bulls host the DHL Stormers at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria in the only local Vodacom Super Rugby derby on Saturday afternoon, and on Sunday the Emirates Lions take on the Crusaders in a repeat of the 2017 final.
Kick-off in the big derby in Pretoria is at 17h15, while the Johannesburg clash starts at 14h30. The third match featuring a local team is on Saturday morning (08h35) in Auckland, where the Cell C Sharks face the Blues.
In Pretoria, former Springbok captain Adriaan Strauss will start for the Vodacom Bulls for the first time this season, a fitting way to celebrate a fantastic Vodacom Super Rugby achievement when he will surpass the record for the most appearances by any South African at this level.
The 32-year-old Strauss will fittingly play in is 149th Vodacom Super Rugby match – improving on Victor Matfield’s record of 148 matches – where it all started for him, in Pretoria. Strauss made his debut for the Vodacom Bulls in 2006 – he has amassed 51 caps for them to date and also played 97 times for the Toyota Cheetahs.
Meanwhile, loose forward Hanro Liebenberg moves to No 5 lock to replace the injured Lood de Jager, while Marco van Staden and Ivan van Zyl exchange places with Roelof Smit (flank) and Embrose Papier (scrumhalf) respectively.
In the DHL Stormers line-up, SP Marais and Dillyn Leyds return from injury to take their place at fullback and wing, while Justin Phillips comes in for Dewaldt Duvenage at scrumhalf. There is also a rotational switch between Steven Kitshoff and JC Janse van Rensburg, with hooker Scarra Ntubeni set to make his first appearance this season if he comes on as a replacement.The Stormers have won six of their last seven games against the Vodacom Bulls, while the side from Pretoria will be looking to bounce back to winning ways at Loftus, where they amazingly have won only one of their last seven games.
The Crusaders have won eight of their last nine games against the team from the Highveld, including last season’s final. However, the Emirates Lions have a good home track record lately, having won 18 of their last 20 games at Emirates Airline Park, so they should be a force to be reckoned with playing in front of their own supporters on Sunday.
Both teams will most likely announce their match day squads only on Friday.
Cell C Sharks coach Robert du Preez made just two changes to the starting side that lost to the Rebels in Melbourne last weekend. Midfielder Andre Esterhuizen is fit again and replaces Marius Louw at inside centre while flank Philip van der Walt, who joined the side as replacement for the injured Wian Vosloo, is picked in place of the suspended Jacques Vermeulen.
The last time the Blues played the Cell C Sharks, they snapped a 10-game losing streak against the Durbanites by winning 23-18. But the men from KwaZulu-Natal clearly enjoy playing in the Aucklanders in New Zealand, where the Cell C Sharks have won four of their last five encounters.
What they said:
According to DHL Stormers coach Robbie Fleck his team are determined to continue the winning momentum they have generated against the Blues and Reds at DHL Newlands: “The team have performed well to win our last two games, but we know that there are a number of areas in which we can still improve.”
Vodacom Bulls coach John Mitchell congratulated Strauss on his milestone: “Adriaan has been a true servant of South African rugby and has left his mark with the Vodacom Bulls, so it is fitting that he could reach that milestone in front of his home crowd. It will be a typical derby no doubt.”
Cell C Sharks coach Robert du Preez said: “The boys are very disappointed and frustrated because they know they’re letting the fans and themselves down. But we have to keep on working harder, and that starts with us coaches, because we’re all in this together. We’re not pointing fingers, we have to fix this together, and I know we will.”
BLUES vs CELL C SHARKS
Head to head:
Blues won: 5
Cell C Sharks won: 14
Blues points: 339
Cell C Sharks points: 473
Average score: 21-25
Blues: 15 Michael Collins, 14 Jordan Trainor, 13 George Moala, 12 Rieko Ioane, 11 Melani Nanai, 10 Stephen Perofeta, 9 Jonathan Ruru, 8 Akira Ioane, 7 Murphy Taramai, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Patrick Tuipulotu, 4 Josh Goodhue, 3 Mike Tamoaieta, 2 James Parsons (captain), 1 Pauliasi Manu. Replacements: 16 Leni Apisai, 17 Ross Wright, 18 Sione Mafileo, 19 Jimmy Tupou, 20 Kara Pryor, 21 Sam Nock, 22 Bryn Gatland, 23 TJ Faiane.
Cell C Sharks: 15 Curwin Bosch, 14 Sbu Nkosi, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Robert du Preez, 9 Louis Schreuder, 8 Tera Mtembu, 7 Jean-Luc du Preez, 6 Philip van der Walt, 5 Stephan Lewies, 4 Ruan Botha (captain), 3 Thomas du Toit, 2 Akker van der Merwe, 1 Beast Mtawarira. Replacements: 16 Franco Marais, 17 Juan Schoeman, 18 John-Hubert Meyer, 19 Hyron Andrews, 20 Tyler Paul, 21 Cameron Wright, 22 Marius Louw, 23 Kobus van Wyk.
Date: Saturday, 31 March
SA time: 08h35
Venue: Eden Park, Auckland
Referee: Nick Briant (NZ)
Assistant referees: Ben O’Keeffe (NZ), Angus Mabey (NZ)
Television match official: Ben Skeen (NZ)
TV: SuperSport 1
VODACOM BULLS vs DHL STORMERS
Head to head:
Vodacom Bulls won: 10
DHL Stormers won: 17
Drawn matches: 1
Vodacom Bulls points: 615
DHL Stormers points: 644
Average score: 22-23
Vodacom Bulls: 15. Warrick Gelant, 14. Travis Ismaiel, 13. Jesse Kriel, 12. Burger Odendaal (captain), 11. Divan Rossouw, 10. Handre Pollard, 9. Ivan van Zyl, 8. Tim Agaba, 7. Thembelani Bholi, 6. Marco van Staden, 5. Hanro Liebenberg, 4. Jason Jenkins, 3. Trevor Nyakane, 2. Adriaan Strauss, 1. Pierre Schoeman. Replacements: 16. Jaco Visagie, 17. Frans van Wyk, 18. Lizo Gqoboka, 19. Hendre Stassen, 20. Roelof Smit, 21. Embrose Papier, 22. Manie Libbok, 23. Johnny Kotze.
DHL Stormers: 15 SP Marais, 14 Dillyn Leyds, 13 EW Viljoen, 12 Damian De Allende, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Damian Willemse, 9 Justin Phillips, 8 Nizaam Carr, 7 Cobus Wiese, 6 Siya Kolisi (captain), 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 Jan de Klerk, 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Ramone Samuels, 1 Steven Kitshoff. Replacements: 16 Scarra Ntubeni, 17 JC Janse van Rensburg, 18 Carlu Sadie, 19 Chris van Zyl, 20 Kobus van Dyk, 21 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 22 Jano Vermaak, 23 JJ Engelbrecht.
Date: Saturday 31 March
SA time: 17h15
Venue: Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen (SA)
Assistant referees: AJ Jacobs (SA), Cwengile Jadezweni (SA)
Television match official: Marius Jonker (SA)
TV: SuperSport 1
EMIRATES LIONS vs CRUSADERS
Head to head:
Emirates Lions won: 4
Crusaders won: 15
Emirates Lions points: 477
Crusaders points: 688
Average score: 25-35
Emirates Lions: TBC
Date: Sunday, 1 April
SA time: 14h30
Venue: Emirates Airline Park, Johannesburg
Referee: Jaco Peyper (SA)
Assistant referees: Rasta Rasivhenge (SA), Egon Seconds (SA)
Television match official: Willie Vos (SA)
TV: SuperSport 1
Other Round 7 matches:
Friday, Saturday, 30 March:
08h35: Chiefs vs Highlanders, FMG Stadium, Hamilton
10h45: Rebels vs Hurricanes, AAMI Park, Melbourne
Saturday, 31 March:
10h45: Brumbies vs Waratahs, GIO Stadium, Canberra
Byes: Sunwolves, Jaguares, Reds