Jacques van der Westhuyzen

By Jacques van der Westhuyzen

Head of Sport

SA rugby’s domestic strength under microscope as cup competitions kick off

South Africa's in-form Bulls take on English side Saracens at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.

Now for the real deal … the best of the best in Europe against South Africa’s strongest teams, some of them packed with World Cup winners.

After several weeks of United Rugby Championship and domestic league action in Europe it is now time for the so-called big boys to go head to head — in the Champions and Challenge Cup competitions.

It’s the best teams from England, France, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Italy and South Africa up against each other in the first round of the lucrative “champions league” of rugby, with Black Lion, an invitation side from Georgia, also given a chance to show what they can do in the second tier Challenge Cup.

South Africa’s Cheetahs, who have no rugby home in any other international competition, are also back in action in the Challenge Cup.

Player management

The first two rounds will be played this weekend and next weekend, before the players return to their domestic competitions over the festive period, with the coaches emphasising player management and rotation as being key to success on more than one front.

“We’re going to have to rotate our players for the trip to France, use the full squad over the next two weeks … we fly Wednesday, play Sunday afternoon, come back next Tuesday,” said the Lions’ Ivan van Rooyen, whose team are up against Perpignan in France on Sunday. Next weekend they face Newcastle at Ellis Park on Saturday.

“To get the best performance and to give ourselves a chance of winning both games we’re going to have to rotate a bit and use the full squad … I’ve got full confidence in them and we’ve prepared like that as well. We’re ready to go.”

Also in action in the Challenge Cup this weekend are the Cheetahs, against Zebre in Italy on Friday, while the Sharks, who’ve found the going tough in the URC and are desperate for some kind of form, host Pau in Durban on Saturday.

In the top tier Champions Cup, the high-flying Bulls host Saracens at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday while the Stormers are away to Leicester in England on Sunday.

First round Champions Cup fixtures

Friday: Glasgow Warriors v Northampton 10pm, Connacht v Bordeaux Begles 10pm
Saturday: Toulon v Exeter 3pm, Bath v Ulster 5.15pm, Toulouse v Cardiff 5.15pm, Bulls v Saracens 7.30pm, Munster v Bayonne 7.30pm, Bristol v Lyon 10pm
Sunday: Sale v Stade Francais 3pm, La Rochelle v Leinster 5.15pm, Leicester v Stormers 5.15pm, Racing 92 v Harlequins 7.30pm

First round Challenge Cup fixtures

Friday: Clermont v Auvergne v Edinburgh 10pm
Saturday: Zebre v Cheetahs 3pm, Black Lion v Gloucester 3pm, Sharks v Pau 5.15pm, Castres v Scarlets 5.15pm, Ospreys v Benetton 7.30pm, Dragons v Oyonnax 10pm
Sunday: Perpignan v Lions 3pm, Newcastle v Montpellier 5.15pm

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