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By Athenkosi Tsotsi

Sports Reporter

URC back with a bang: It’s set to be box office stuff, but will the fans show up?

There are expectations that fans will flock to the stadiums as the action on the field has been edge-of-the-seat stuff.

Following a Six Nations break, the United Rugby Championship returns this weekend, with South African fans set to be entertained by two local derbies.

On Saturday, the Lions will host the Bulls in a Jukskei derby at Ellis Park (kick-off at 3pm); while there will be a coastal derby in Durban when the Sharks welcome the Stormers to King’s Park Stadium (kick-off at 5.05pm).

These mouth-watering clashes continue the trend of summer derbies in South Africa. In the festive season we saw scores of people flock to the Cape Town Stadium as the Stormers hosted the Bulls and Sharks, while there were also impressive numbers in Durban when the Sharks played the Lions and when the Bulls and Lions faced off at Loftus Versfeld.

The spectators from South Africa have helped swell the average stadium attendance across the URC in the festive period.

Will fans go to Ellis Park?

Going into this round of fixtures there are expectations that fans will flock to the stadiums as the action on the field has been edge-of-the-seat stuff, and the entertainment at the grounds has been catering for adults and children.

All eyes though will be on Ellis Park — will the fans finally grace the iconic stadium in numbers this weekend? The attendance at Ellis Park for Lions games has been disappointing this term, and at times it’s as if the team is playing behind closed doors like in the Covid-19 era.

The Ellis Park’s management had a security cluster briefing recently to assure fans that the stadium’s vicinity is safe on match days and this weekend’s numbers will show if the fans are still keen to attend matches in Doornfontein.

Fight for playoff spots

And, if ever there was a game that the Lions needed their fans at Ellis Park it is this Saturday’s battle with the Bulls. Ivan van Rooyen’s side are chasing a playoff spot that has eluded them since the inception of the URC.

The Lions are in 10th place on the points table with 24 points. If they are to push to finish in the top eight, they need to win their home games. The Bulls will be looking to make it back-to-back wins over the Lions after they defeated them 30-28  in January. Jake White’s team are the best-performing SA side, and they will want to keep their momentum.

Sharks resurgence

Meanwhile, the Sharks, who are rock bottom on the URC log, will look to turn around their fortunes against the Stormers.

John Plumtree’s side are expected to be boosted with the return of Springboks Bongi Mbonambi and Vincent Koch along with flanker Vincent Tshituka.

The Stormers though won’t be pushovers as John Dobson’s outfit often peak in the second half of the season. The Cape Town outfit will look to put away the Sharks and kick-start their charge for a third URC final.

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