Cell C Sharks are set for a stern test in the United Rugby Championship (URC) on Saturday as they visit last season’s Heineken Champions Cup runners-up Leinster Rugby.
The South African outfit, who make their debut in EPCR’s elite competition when they welcome Harlequins in Pool A on December 10, have made two changes for the trip to the RDS Arena, with No.8 Sikhumbuzo Notshe and lock Hyron Andrews coming in after last Saturday’s 20-16 win at Dragons RFC.
Leinster, who like their opponents have won all their URC games so far this season, have made four alterations from last Friday’s 20-13 win at Ulster Rugby.
Fly-half Johnny Sexton returns to captain the side, with centre Charlie Ngatai and wing Rob Russell also brought into the back line. Will Connors is at openside flanker in the absence of 2022 EPCR European Player of the Year Josh van der Flier.
Elsewhere in the URC, DHL Stormers, another South African side entering the Heineken Champions Cup this season, travel to Zebre Parma for their maiden game in the Italian city.
The visitors are much-changed from their 34-18 win against Edinburgh Rugby last Saturday, with centre Sacha Mngomezulu, scrum-half Herschel Jantjies, flanker Willie Engelbrecht and lock Adre Smith all handed their first starts of the season.
Centre Alapati Leuia makes his debut for the Cape Town-based side, while full-back Damian Willemse, flanker Junior Pokomela and hooker Andre-Hugo Venter are also swapped in.
The third South African newcomer to the Heineken Champions Cup, Vodacom Bulls, are also in URC action on Saturday as they clash with Glasgow Warriors at Scotstoun Stadium.
The travelling side have made four changes from their 28-14 victory over Connacht Rugby last time out, with hooker Jan-Hendrik Wessels, fly-half Chris Smith, wing Stedman Gans and centre Lionel Mapoe coming in, the latter tweak seeing Cornal Hendricks shifting out wide.
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There is also an all-Heineken Champions Cup contest in the URC, with Ulster Rugby welcoming fellow Pool B contenders Ospreys.
South African No.8 Duane Vermeulen returns for Ulster while prop Gareth Thomas makes his 100th appearance for Ospreys. At the other end of the experience spectrum, lock Huw Sutton is set for his first start for the Welsh region.
Saturday’s Gallagher Premiership games throw up another all-Heineken Champions Cup Pool B clash as Leicester Tigers entertain Sale Sharks.
Scrum-half Richard Wigglesworth, centre Matt Scott, lock Calum Green and wing Nemani Nadolo are all back in the Leicester line-up, while prop Bevan Rodd returns to the Sale XV – his England international teammate Raffi Quirke fit enough for a place on the bench.
Gloucester Rugby are the other Heineken Champions Cup team featuring in the Premiership on Saturday – they have an away day at Bath Rugby.
Argentinian duo Matias Alemanno and Santiago Carreras return to start at lock and wing respectively for the Pool A hopefuls.
Several Heineken Champions Cup clubs play in the TOP 14 on Saturday, with Castres Olympique up against Montpellier Hérault Rugby at Stade Pierre-Fabre and Stade Toulousain hosting ASM Clermont Auvergne.
Last season’s winners Stade Rochelais and Racing 92 both have EPCR Challenge Cup opponents as they visit Aviron Bayonnais and welcome Section Paloise respectively.
Sunday’s domestic action sees Heineken Champions Cup returnees Saracens make the trip to Newcastle Falcons and Pool B members Northampton Saints travel to Wasps in the Premiership, while Lyon welcome Union Bordeaux-Bègles in the TOP 14.