South Africa

URC kicks off under the radar as Boks steal the limelight

Lions Stormers 1

The big match of the weekend for the local franchises is the derby clash between the Lions and Stormers at Ellis Park.

The United Rugby Championship (URC) kicks off firmly under the radar on Saturday with the Rugby World Cup in France still in full swing as the competition semifinals are battled out this weekend.

It is thus set to be a quiet start to the third edition of the competition, however, the teams will be desperate to get off the mark with some big performances.

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The South African sides, the Stormers, Bulls, Sharks and Lions will be eager to kick off their seasons on the right note as they target a successful campaign.

Big match

The big match of the weekend for the local franchises is the derby clash between the Lions and Stormers at Ellis Park on Saturday afternoon (kick-off 4:05pm).

The Stormers have been brilliant in the URC over the first two seasons, winning the inaugural edition and then finishing as runners-up last season, and they will be targeting another good showing.

They dominated South African franchises last season, doing the double over all of them, but the Lions have big ambitions and they will be gunning to end that winning streak to get their campaign off to the best possible start.

The Sharks have a huge challenge in taking on last season’s champs Munster in Ireland in their opener (kick-off 6:15pm).

The Durban side had a poor campaign by their high standards last season, with them finishing eighth and missing out on Champions Cup qualification and they will want to rectify that this season.

Beating Munster in their back yard might be too tough a challenge early on without their Boks, but if they could spring a surprise it would stand them in great stead.

The Bulls

The Bulls were notoriously up and down last season and coach Jake White admitted that they will be targeting consistency this season.

They have a great chance to get their campaign off to a perfect start with a home clash against Scarlets on Sunday (kick-off 3pm) and they will be going all out for a full house of points.

In other games on the weekend Leinster, who have finished the past two seasons on top of the log but been dumped out in the semifinals on both occasions, travel to Scotland to face last season’s fourth placed Glasgow Warriors on Sunday.

Last season’s surprise semifinalists Connacht host Welsh club Ospreys, while the team they beat in the quarterfinals Ulster will face Zebre in Italy in their tournament opener, with both games on Saturday.

Dragons host Edinburgh and Cardiff host Benetton in the other two games taking place on Saturday.