SA Teams Look To Strengthen Positions In Europe


The South African teams in the Investec Champions Cup and EPCR Challenge Cup will look to strengthen their positions in the respective competitions in the third and penultimate round of pool matches this weekend, which will be vital in their quest to advance to the playoff stages.

In the Investec Champions Cup, the Vodacom Bulls and DHL Stormers face English opponents on Saturday. The men from Pretoria take on the Bristol Bears at Ashton Gate, while the Capetonians host the Sale Sharks at DHL Stadium.

Meanwhile, French challenges await the three SA teams in the EPCR Challenge Cup. The Hollywoodbets Sharks welcome Oyonnax to Durban and the Emirates Lions are away to Montpellier on Saturday, while the Toyota Cheetahs meet Section Paloise in Amsterdam on Sunday.

All five teams are currently still in the running for places in the Rounds of 16 in the respective competitions, but with two pool rounds remaining and only a few points separating the sides lower down on the logs, victories will be of key importance.

The Vodacom Bulls will be hunting their second victory in the Investec Champions Cup and with the team coming off back-to-back defeats, falling short by only one point against Lyon in their last outing in the tournament and then suffering a 26-20 defeat against the DHL Stormers in the Vodacom United Rugby Championship, they will be desperate to gain some winning momentum.

Adding to the pressure, the Vodacom Bulls are currently in third place on their log with five points, but only thanks to their superior points difference over Saracens and their opponents this weekend, the Bristol Bears.

The Pretoria side, however, will draw comfort from the fact that the English outfit has also had an inconsistent season which has seen them win five of their 11 games in the Premiership, where they are ranked third last on the standings, but they will enter the match fresh off a morale-boosting away win against the Sale Sharks.

In Cape Town, the DHL Stormers will have their sights set on maintaining their unbeaten run at home this season when they host the Sale Sharks – who lead them on the table by a five-point points’ difference – at the DHL Stadium.

The Capetonians have been in fine form at home where they defeated the Investec Champions Cup title holders, La Rochelle, in the last month before going on to defeat the Vodacom Bulls and Hollywoodbets Sharks in the Vodacom United Rugby Championship.

With the Sale Sharks winning seven of their 11 Premiership matches and the DHL Stormers on five wins in nine games in the Vodacom URC, and the visitors finding themselves under massive pressure to bounce back from back-to-back defeats, it is expected to be a good contest.

In the EPCR Challenge Cup, the Hollywoodbets Sharks will be desperate for a win against Oyonnax in Durban on Saturday after suffering three successive defeats in their last three matches and finding themselves at the foot of the Vodacom URC log with only one victory in nine encounters.

Oyonnax will also be under pressure to register a victory after suffering defeats in both their EPCR Challenge Cup matches and winning only five of their 12 matches in the French Top 14.

The hosts, however, will look to take full advantage of the expected hot and humid KwaZulu-Natal weather conditions and their passionate home crowd in what they will view as a must-win encounter.

The clash between the Emirates Lions and Montpellier at the GGL Stadium could also prove to be a humdinger with both teams currently unbeaten in the EPCR Challenge Cup.

The Johannesburgers will draw inspiration from the fact that they staged a dramatic second-half comeback to defeat the Hollywoodbets Sharks in the Vodacom URC last weekend, while they also boast a better record in the competition than Montpellier’s in the Top 14, with four wins in eight matches to the hosts’ three in 12 outings.

That said, the Emirates Lions will be mindful of the fact that Montpellier has won their last three home matches – the last of which was a confidence-boosting 27-17 victory against Toulon – meaning it could prove to be a tight tussle.

The Toyota Cheetahs, in turn, will be eyeing their third EPCR Challenge Cup win in a row and to retain the top spot in Pool 1 following an away win against Zebre Parma and a home win against the Hollywoodbets Sharks so far, when they face Section Paloise – more commonly known as Pau – in Amsterdam on Sunday.

The French club, however, will be aware that a victory could place them back in contention for a place in the playoffs, and although they may come off a disappointing nine-point defeat against La Rochelle in the Top 14, they will take some inspiration from the fact that they have had a decent season so far with seven wins in 12 matches in the French league, which sets the scene for an exciting clash in the Netherlands.

Match information – Investec Champions Cup:

Bristol Bears v Vodacom Bulls
Date: Saturday, 13 January
Venue: Ashton Gate, Bristol
SA Time: 17h15
Referee: Mathieu Raynal
TV: SuperSport

DHL Stormers v Sale Sharks
Date: Saturday, 13 January
Venue: DHL Stadium, Cape Town
SA Time: 19h30
Referee: Luc Ramos
TV: SuperSport

Match Information – EPCR Challenge Cup:

Hollywoodbets Sharks v Oyonnax
Date: Saturday, 13 January
Venue: Hollywoodbets Kings Park, Durban
SA Time: 15h00
Referee: Adam Leal
TV: SuperSport

Montpellier v Emirates Lions
Date: Saturday, 13 January
Venue: GGL Stadium, Montpellier
SA Time: 22h00
Referee: Sam Grove-White
TV: SuperSport

Toyota Cheetahs v Section Paloise
Date: Sunday, 14 January
Venue: NRCA Stadium, Amsterdam
SA Time: 15h00
Referee: Hollie Davidson
TV: SuperSport