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The DHL Stormers will be hunting a victory this weekend to remain in second place on the Vodacom United Rugby Championship log, while the other three South African franchises will be under immense pressure to register victories to remain in the race for playoff spots as the competition strikes the penultimate round of pool matches with an invasion of Irish and Italian teams.

The Cell C Sharks will kick off the weekend’s action against Benetton in Durban on Friday at 18h30, and the action continues Saturday with a double-header in Johannesburg between the Vodacom Bulls and Zebre Parma at 13h00, and the Emirates Lions and log-leaders Leinster at 16h00.

The DHL Stormers will wrap up the action for the local teams on Saturday at 18h15 against Munster in Cape Town.

As things stand, the DHL Stormers – in second place on the log – are guaranteed of a home quarter-final, but they will have to fend off third-placed Ulster, who trail by only two log points, in the last two league rounds to remain in a favourable position for a possible home semi-final if they advance to the top four.

The situation is more complicated for the other South Africans franchises as the Vodacom Bulls and Cell C Sharks are in seventh and eighth place respectively with 43 and 41 points, while the Emirates Lions are three points behind the Durbanites in 11th place – with Benetton and Cardiff locked in between those positions – meaning all three teams may have to win their remaining two matches to finish in the top eight.

The clash between the Cell C Sharks and Benetton is expected to be a thriller as they are only separated by one log point and are both fighting for a spot in the top eight. Both sides have won eight of their 16 pool matches, but the KwaZulu-Natalians will draw inspiration from the fact that they have home ground advantage and boast a better record on attack and defence this season than the visitors.

Fuelling the Cell C Sharks’ motivation, Benetton have only won two games on the road, but with everything to play for on both sides, it could be a ding-dong battle.

The Vodacom Bulls will enter their clash against the last-placed Zebre Parma as favourites after lingering in the top half of the log throughout the season and with eight victories to none by the Italians, whose only points this season were compliments of bonus points.

The Pretoria outfit may be playing in Johannesburg this weekend, but the fact that they are familiar with Emirates Airline Park and will be playing in the same conditions only 60 km away from their home, will count in their favour against a team who have been largely inferior statistically this season, with 177 fewer points scored and conceded.

The Emirates Lions, meanwhile, will be keeping a close eye on the outcome of the Cell C Sharks and Vodacom Bulls’ matches as well as the clash between Cardiff and Connacht when they host Leinster on Saturday, as a surprise victory by the hosts combined with defeats for Benetton and Cardiff could see them leapfrog those teams on the table.

The Johannesburgers, however, know they have to deliver one of their best performances this season to topple the unbeaten Irish giants, whose worst result so far this season has been a draw.

The Emirates Lions, however, will bank on their home crowd and the altitude factor to give them a handy boost in the clash, but they will be wary of the fact that they have to be water-tight on defence and extremely effective on attack to create an upset, as they are lagging behind the visitors from Dublin in terms of points scored and conceded this season.

The DHL Stormers, meanwhile, will be bracing themselves for a humdinger against the fifth-placed Munster at the DHL Stadium in Cape Town, where the hosts will be looking to cling onto second place on the table, while Munster will be hoping to keep alive their hopes of lunging into the top four for a possible home quarter-final in the last two league rounds.

The Capetonians will look to build on their better attacking record with 47 more points scored than their opponents this season and to continue their unbeaten run at home in the competition, but Munster will draw comfort from the fact that they are the second-best defensive team in the competition, with an average of just over 19 points conceded per match.

Match information:

Cell C Sharks v Benetton

Date: Friday, 14 April

Venue: Hollywoodbets Kings Park, Durban

SA Time: 18h30

Referee: Ben Whitehouse

TV: SuperSport

Vodacom Bulls v Zebre Parma

Date: Saturday, 15 April

Venue: Emirates Airline Park, Johannesburg

SA Time: 13h00

Referee: Hollie Davidson

TV: SuperSport

Emirates Lions v Leinster

Date: Saturday, 15 April

Venue: Emirates Airline Park, Johannesburg

SA Time: 16h00

Referee: Mike Adamson

TV: SuperSport


DHL Stormers v Munster

Date: Saturday, 15 April

Venue: DHL Stadium, Cape Town

SA Time: 18h15

Referee: Craig Evans

TV: SuperSport

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