The South African sides will be seeking a second consecutive clean sweep in the United Rugby Championship this weekend, writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.
The local teams ushered in the new era of home matches against European opposition with a full-house of victories last weekend and will be determined to do the same in their rescheduled Round Seven assignments.
The Bulls are up first against the Scarlets in Pretoria on Friday night, which will be followed by a crunch Scottish derby with the Glasgow Warriors hosting Edinburgh.
On Saturday, the Lions face the toughest test of the local teams when they tackle Munster in Johannesburg before the action moves to Durban where the Sharks take on Zebre.
Finally, the Stormers close out the round when they collide with Cardiff on Sunday afternoon.
Bulls v Scarlets
Friday, 18 March – 19:10
The 10th-placed Bulls enter Friday night’s fixture with two non-negotiable objectives. The first, produce an 80-minute performance after almost letting victory slip away against Munster last weekend, and the second, secure the full five points.
A much-needed bonus point looked on the cards against the Irish club but ultimately eluded them, which sees them trail the eighth-placed Stormers by two and the South African Shield-leading Sharks by four. Therefore, simply beating the Scarlets isn’t enough.
With some luck, the West Walians could’ve possibly upset the Sharks last weekend, having two tries disallowed and other key decisions going against them. The overriding takeaway, however, was their drastic drop-off in the final quarter.
They ran out of gas, which led to indiscipline and the Sharks pulling clear, and things get even tougher on the Highveld. Thus, expect the Bulls to tick both boxes, whilst also looking to rectify their misfiring lineout.
Glasgow Warriors v Edinburgh
Friday, 18 March – 21:35
Scottish rugby lovers will finally see their local clubs collide in a case of third time’s the charm after both initial battles had to be postponed.
This impromptu date, it turns out, adds to the drama and anticipation as the top spot in the Scottish/Italian Shield is on the line. Both teams are on 39 points and even though Edinburgh have a better points difference (92 to 50), the Warriors edge them out on most wins (8 to 7).
Sitting fourth and fifth overall, there’s also the matter of neither team wanting to drop points with the sixth-placed Sharks on the up, and of course, there’s the 1872 Cup, the prize the domestic rivals vie for, and is decided on aggregate. In the fast-changing pandemic world, winning this one is paramount as there’s no guarantee of a return fixture.
It’s a tough one to call as Glasgow had won five straight in all competitions before suffering a shock 35-10 loss to the Scarlets last time out, on the same weekend that Edinburgh ended a three-match losing streak with a crushing 56-8 win over Connacht.
The Warriors have won the last three derby wars and are tough to beat at home, where they’ve won six of seven in the URC including beating Munster, so I’m siding with the hosts in what should be a thriller.
Lions v Munster
Saturday, 19 March – 14:00
The timing of this tie is unfortunate for the Lions after they finally scored their first win of the year last weekend. There were flashes of the Lions of old in the clash against Cardiff and that free-flowing offence propelled them to a much more convincing win (37-20) than expected.
The way Munster fought back from 26 points down to nearly snatch victory at Loftus will give them a world of confidence that they can get over the line at Ellis Park. The much-talked-about altitude didn’t seem to faze the Irish outfit at all as they outscored the Bulls by 18 points in the second half.
Despite missing nine internationals, they proved in Pretoria they still have plenty of firepowers which, coupled with the conditioning and heart they showed, suggest they’ll rain on the pride of Johannesburg’s parade.
Sharks v Zebre
Saturday, 19 March – 18:30
It’ll be one-way traffic in Durban. At least, it can’t get much worse for Zebre after their 55-7 shellacking in Stellenbosch. The Sharks won’t have any complacency after their stuttering performance against the Scarlets. Lady Luck smiled on them in their 37-20 win and they’d be keen on delivering a more clinical and commanding display, especially on attack.
While they did bank the bonus-point try at the death, the Durbanites were blunt with the ball in hand and often stopped behind the gain line, issues they’ll want to iron out on Saturday night. Hunger for improvement and humidity will see the Sharks wash the winless Italians away.
Stormers v Cardiff
Sunday, 20 March – 14:00
It’s set to be a sunny albeit gusty afternoon, but after what we saw last weekend, another proverbial storm is set to hit the Western Cape on Sunday.
After showing out in Stellenbosch, the Stormers are back at Cape Town Stadium where they’ll be eager to continue the attacking potency they rediscovered in their nine-try rout of Zebre.
Cardiff were less competitive than anticipated at Ellis Park and they’ll be unable to contain the Capetonians as well. With winds of 25-40 km/h, goal-kicking will be an issue and is important to consider when it comes to the spread.