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The South African teams will face a big task this weekend as the Heineken Champions Cup and European Challenge Cup reaches the business end in the opening playoff rounds, where all five domestic franchises will look to book places in the quarter-finals.

Three teams will be in action in the Heineken Champions Cup with the Cell C Sharks hosting Munster in Durban, the DHL Stormers taking on Harlequins in Cape Town and Stade Toulousain welcoming the Vodacom Bulls to the south of France.

In the EPCR Challenge Cup, the Emirates Lions will meet Racing 92 in Johannesburg, while the Toyota Cheetahs will go up against Toulon in the scenic French city.

While all eyes will be on the round of 16 this weekend, the organisers also locked in the dates for the competitions next season.

The Cell C Sharks will be determined to return to winning ways when they host Munster at Hollywoodbets Kings Park on Saturday, especially after suffering their first defeat in the competition in their last outing against Harlequins at Twickenham.

Fortunately for the KwaZulu-Natalians – who lost away to Munster in the Vodacom United Rugby Championship last year – they did enough to secure a home play-off match this weekend after registering three wins in a row prior to that.

They will be wary of the fact Munster will pose a different challenge to that which they have faced in the competition so far, but with the team having won both their home matches in the pool stages, they are expected to enter the match with confidence.

Their motivation will be boosted by the fact that they won one more match during the season and scored 46 more points than the visitors, but Munster hold a better defensive record with 22 points fewer conceded in their first four matches.

The DHL Stormers will be hunting their fourth victory in a row in the competition when they welcome English club Harlequins to DHL Stadium on Saturday.

Interestingly, the Capetonians’ only defeat was in the opening round of the competition, while Harlequins have won two of their four matches – the last of which was a 39-29 victory against the Cell C Sharks.

The home side will draw confidence from the fact that they boast a superior defence, having conceded 40 points fewer in their four matches to date, although the English outfit has been marginally on attack.

The Vodacom Bulls, meanwhile, will face a tough task against the unbeaten French giants Stade Toulousain in the only match featuring a South African team on Sunday where they will be looking to secure their first away win in the competition at Stade de Toulouse.

The Pretoria side will back themselves to create an upset with the teams being closely matched on attack this season, but they will be mindful of the fact that they will have to step up their defence after conceding 86 more points in their four pool matches.

Toulouse will undoubtedly enter the match as favourites, but with the Vodacom Bulls essentially entering the match as the underdogs, they will be wary of the fact that the pressure will be squarely on the home team.

In the EPCR Challenge Cup, the Emirates Lions will look to capitalise on their home ground advantage and altitude to when they host Racing 92 at Emirates Airline Park on Saturday.

The Emirates Lions remain unbeaten at home this season, having registered a draw and win at their home field, while their confidence will also be boosted by the fact that they defeated the Dragons away in their last outing.

Racing 92, meanwhile, failed to qualify for the Round of 16 in the Heineken Champions Cup after winning only one of their four matches, which is sure to fuel their motivation this weekend, but with the Johannesburgers boasting a better attack and defence this season, and the team coming off a morale-boosting three Vodacom United Rugby Championship victories in a row, they are expected to enter the match high on confidence.

The Toyota Cheetahs also face a challenging task as they line up against Toulon in France on Saturday where they will look to end the hosts’ four-match winning streak in the competition.

Toulon and the Scarlets are the only two sides that completed the pool stages unbeaten, while the Toyota Cheetahs secured their place in their playoff stages after winning two of their four matches.

That said, the Free Staters will draw confidence from the fact that one of their victories was away in Parma, while they fell short by a narrow three points against the Scarlets in Llanelli to add to a victory at home – and this will certainly be in the back of Toulon’s minds going into the clash.

Toulon hold a better track record on attack and defence this season and will enter the match as favourites on paper, but the Toyota Cheetahs have proven that they can deliver on the road, which is sure to inspire them.

Heineken Champions Cup fixtures (Round of 16) 

Cell C Sharks v Munster

Date: Saturday, 1 April

Venue: Hollywoodbets Kings Park, Durban

SA Time: 13h30

Referee: Wayne Barnes

TV: SuperSport

DHL Stormers v Harlequins

Date: Saturday, 1 April

Venue: DHL Stadium, Cape Town

SA Time: 16h00

Referee: Pierre Brousset

TV: SuperSport

Stade Toulousain v Vodacom Bulls

Date: Sunday, 2 April

Venue: Stade de Toulouse, Toulouse

SA Time: 16h00

Referee: Matthew Carley

TV: SuperSport

EPCR Challenge Cup fixtures (Round of 16):


Toulon v Toyota Cheetahs

Date: Saturday, 1 April

Venue: Stade Felix Mayol, Toulon

SA Time: 13h30

Referee: Andrea Piardi

TV: SuperSport

Emirates Lions v Racing 92

Date: Saturday, 1 April

Venue: Emirates Airline Park, Johannesburg

SA Time: 18h30

Referee: Karl Dickson

TV: SuperSport

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