The DHL Stormers (second place), Cell C Sharks (fourth place) and Vodacom Bulls (eighth place) are all in playoff contention and depending on the results in the next two rounds – which include away fixtures in the final round-robin stage next month – all three could still qualify for home quarter-finals.
The DHL Stormers and Cell C Sharks will have the added motivation of possibly being able to finish in the league stages in the top two on the log, which would pave the way for home semi-finals, and perhaps a home final for one of them should they go all the way.
The Vodacom Bulls will get the action underway on Friday when they welcome Glasgow Warriors to Pretoria (19h00), while the Emirates Lions host Benetton in Johannesburg in the first of three games on Saturday (14h00), followed by clashes between Cell C Sharks and Connacht in Durban (16h05) and a top-of-the-table showstopper between the DHL Stormers and Leinster in Cape Town (18h15).
The Vodacom Bulls will look to kick on from their convincing win against Benetton last week when they meet the sixth-placed Glasgow at their fortress Loftus Versfeld, where a win would see them earn their sixth victory in seven outings.
They will, however, go up against a determined Scottish outfit who are equally resolute to remain in the top eight for a quarter-final spot and who will want to avoid a possible fourth straight away defeat in the competition for the first time since 2018.
The Vodacom Bulls' starting team show several changes from the side that beat Benetton with the only change upfront being loose forward Arno Botha returning to the starting line-up in place of Cyle Brink, who is on bench.
At the back James Verity-Amm starts on the wing, with Canan Moodie at fullback in place of Kurt-Lee Arendse, who has been ruled out with a thumb injury, while the team includes a new halfback pairing in Zak Burger and Morne Steyn, with Embrose Papier and Chris Smith named among the replacements.
“We have a tough task ahead of us this Friday,” said Vodacom Bulls Director of Rugby, Jake White.
“Despite their defeat to the DHL Stormers last week, Glasgow Warriors are a formidable side that we expect will bring a huge challenge for us. They are a well-coached group with a number of highly talented internationals in their squad. We will need to be alert and at our best for the entire 80 minutes.”
The Emirates Lions may be playing for pride, but with the team coming off back-to-back defeats after an impressive four-match winning run, they will present a stern challenge against Benetton.
They will also look to take advantage of Benetton’s disappointing track record away from home after last winning a match outside of Italy in the 2020 season, and the fact that they have only won four of their 15 matches so far in the competition.
“We've had a good week, the guys are really putting in the hard work,” said Emirates Lions scrum coach Julian Redelinghuys.
“It’s very important for us to stay in the process and focus on aspects we would like to improve on, not only for Saturday but in future. Benetton are a very good side. They had a pretty decent start against the Vodacom Bulls last weekend, so we’ll prepare for that leading up to Saturday.
“We'll focus quite a bit on our decision-making come Saturday with a bigger emphasis on our structures and making sure we are accurate.”
The Cell C Sharks, meanwhile, will have their sights set firmly on a fourth successive victory and to leap into the top three on the standings to keep alive their aspirations of finishing the league stages in the top two when they host Connacht at Hollywoodbets Kings Park.
But the KwaZulu-Natalians will be bracing themselves for a hard grind as the 10th placed Connacht are high on confidence after winning three of their last four away matches, while they are yet to be beaten by a South African side this season.
“Connacht is one of the top clubs in the competition and playing them at Hollywoodbets Kings Park is definitely an exciting challenge for us,” said Cell C Sharks head coach Sean Everitt.
“This is our last pool game at home, and we want to put on a good performance in front of our home fans and make them proud, before travelling to Ireland to take on Ulster.”
The DHL Stormers will also be expecting an epic encounter against log-leaders Leinster at DHL Stadium, where the hosts will be hunting their sixth win in a row and ninth victory in 10 matches.
The Capetonians have had a rewarding home stretch so far this season, winning all their matches since early December, but they will be wary of the fact that a win for Leinster will guarantee them the top spot on the log, which is invaluable if they advance to the final.
The Irish giants will also be determined to avoid suffering back-to-back defeats for the first time in the competition since 2019.
DHL Stormers coach John Dobson made three changes to his side with fullback Warrick Gelant starting and Damian Willemse shifting to inside centre in place of Rikus Pretorius, who has been ruled out due to concussion.
Deon Fourie returns from injury to take his place on the side of the scrum, while the only other change to the starting line-up sees JJ Kotze at hooker in place of the injured Scarra Ntubeni, with Wilmar Arnoldi who is on loan from the Toyota Cheetahs, set to make his DHL Stormers debut from the replacements bench.
“This should be a great occasion for a number of reasons, with the top two teams on the standings taking each other on at DHL Stadium,” said Dobson.
“This is a crucial game for both teams with the play-offs getting closer and we are expecting an intense game. We know Leinster’s pedigree and saw how competitive they were last week, so we are looking forward to measuring ourselves against them.
“We will have to be accurate and clinical in all that we do for the full 80 minutes, which is a challenge that the team is embracing.”
Vodacom Bulls v Glasgow Warriors
Date: Friday, 29 April
Venue: Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
SA Time: 19h00
Referee: Nika Amashukeli
Emirates Lions v Benetton
Date: Saturday, 30 April
Venue: Emirates Airline Park, Johannesburg
SA Time: 14h00
Referee: Andrew Brace
Cell C Sharks v Connacht
Date: Saturday, 30 April
Venue: Hollywoodbets Kings Park, Durban
SA Time: 16h05
Referee: Mike Adamson
DHL Stormers v Leinster
Date: Saturday, 30 April
Venue: DHL Stadium, Cape Town
SA Time: 18h15
Referee: Craig Evans