South African Teams Set To Invade Europe


Five South African franchises will enter new rugby territory on Saturday when they take the field in the opening round of the Heineken Champions Cup and EPCR Challenge Cup competitions in a watershed moment for SA rugby.

The Emirates Lions will get their first taste of European action against the Dragons in their EPCR Challenge Cup clash at 12h45 on Saturday at Emirates Airline Park, while the Toyota Cheetahs will meet Section Paloise at 15h00 at Stade du Hameau in Pau.

The three other SA franchises will make their Heineken Champions Cup debuts on Saturday with the Cell C Sarks meeting Harlequins at Hollywoodbets Kings Park at 15h00, while the DHL Stormers take on Clermont Auvergne at Stade Marcel-Michelin at 17h15, and the Vodacom Bulls lock horns with Lyon at Loftus Versfeld at 19h30.

SA’s four Vodacom United Rugby Championship teams, the Vodacom Bulls, DHL Stormers, Emirates Lions and the Cell C Sharks, will all be determined to build on their form against their northern hemisphere rivals last weekend, as they registered a clean sweep of victories in the Vodacom URC, but this will be a completely new challenge for the teams against fresh opposition.

The Emirates Lions have been in encouraging form this season, winning five of their eight Vodacom URC matches to date, and they are expected to back themselves against Welsh side the Dragons, who despite reaching the EPCR playoffs on three occasions (2007, 2015 and 2016) failed to progress beyond the pool stages last year after suffering defeats in all four of their games.

The Toyota Cheetahs will be looking forward to returning to top class club rugby after last featuring in the Guinness PRO14 competition in the 2020/21 season where they finished in fourth place on the Conference A log with six wins in 13 matches.

With French club Section Paloise, also known as Pau, coming off a disappointing 2020/21 season in which they failed to progress beyond the pool stages, they will look to challenge the Free Staters re-introduction into intercontinental rugby, and take advantage of their home conditions and crowd.

The Heineken Champions Cup is also expected to dish up a fair share of excitement as the Cell C Sharks meet English club Harlequins in Durban on Saturday in what is expected to be a thrilling clash.

The KwaZulu-Natalians come off a spirited fight against Ospreys in the Vodacom URC and will look to build on that when they take on the Quins, who come off back-to-back victories in the Gallagher Premiership and Premiership Rugby Cup against Gloucester and Bath respectively.

Similarly to the Durbanites, who boast a few Springbok players in their ranks, Harlequins have their fair share of top-class players in England’s Danny Care and Marcus Smith, as well as three Boks in André Esterhuizen, Wilco Louw and Stephan Lewies.

Having played for the Cell C Sharks earlier in their careers, Esterhuizen and Lewies will warn their team-mates of the warm Durban conditions, and given the quality of the two teams on offer, this match could end as a very tight scramble.

The DHL Stormers, who have had a good run in the Vodacom URC so far this season after winning the inaugural tournament, will be up against a strong-willed opponent in Clermont-Auvergne from France, who will want to make an early statement in the competition after finishing in fifth place last season.

Clermont also come off a few disappointing results in the French Top 14, but they managed to turn things around last week against Montpellier, and this will give them the mental boost they need going into this clash.

The Capetonians, however, will enter the match with confidence since they come off a three-match winning streak in the Vodacom URC.

Interestingly, five players in coach John Dobson’s touring squad have Heineken Champions Cup experience in Steven Kitshoff, Brok Harris (both props), Joseph Dweba (hooker), Deon Fourie (utility forward) and Alapati Leiua (centre).

The Vodacom Bulls, meanwhile, will enter their clash against Lyon in strong form on a four-match winning streak and after winning seven of their nine Vodacom URC matches.

With this being a home game and the Pretoria team boasting the bragging rights as the top points scorers in the Vodacom URC up to now, they should take some additional confidence into the clash at Loftus Versfeld.

The Vodacom Bulls will, however, be wary of the fact that Lyon earned their first ever European title last season after beating Toulon 30-12 in the EPCR Challenge Cup final, and they will look to build on that in what will be a new hunting ground for them this weekend.

Heineken Champions Cup fixtures (Round 1):

Cell C Sharks v Harlequins
Date: Saturday, 10 December
Venue: Hollywoodbets Kings Park, Durban
SA Time: 15h00
Referee: Tual Trainini (France)
TV: SuperSport

Clermont Auvergne v DHL Stormers
Date: Saturday, 10 December
Venue: Stade Marcel-Michelin, Clermont-Ferrand
SA Time: 17h15
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
TV: SuperSport

Vodacom Bulls v Lyon
Date: Saturday, 10 December
Venue: Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
SA Time: 19h30
Referee: Matthew Carley (England)
TV: SuperSport

EPCR Challenge Cup fixtures (Round 1):

Emirates Lions v Dragons
Date: Saturday, 10 December
Venue: Emirates Airline Park, Johannesburg
SA Time: 12h45
Referee: Anthony Woodthorpe (England)
TV: SuperSport

Section Paloise v Toyota Cheetahs
Date: Saturday, 10 December
Venue: Stade du Hameau, Pau
SA Time: 15h00
Referee: Sam Grove-White (Scotland)
TV: SuperSport