The Scarlet Challenge

Vodacom United Rugby Championship action resumes this weekend after a break for the autumn test window with the Cell C Sharks playing their first home match of the tournament this weekend.

On Saturday Jonsson Kings Park plays host to the Scarlets who hail from Wales, the match kicking off in front of spectators for the first time in 20 months.

With two wins from their five matches, the most recent last week’s defeat of Benetton, Scarlets are currently sitting in tenth position and will look to dominate this weekend. They will however be up against a Cell C Sharks team looking to impose Fortress Jonsson Kings Park on their travelling visitors and make inroads in the competition, particularly at home.

The Cell C Sharks took on Toyota Free State in last week’s Toyota Challenge but will not have seen any URC action in six weeks when they return to play this weekend. However, getting some match action under the belt is invaluable as they prepare for the resumption of the intercontinental tournament.

Although the Cell C Sharks enjoy touring, being away for so long – in this case five weeks – was out of their comfort zone and for loose forward Henco Venter, his team will be well-prepared in familiar surroundings for this weekend.

“Training for this match has gone well, it’s nice to be back home, sleeping in your own bed with your family around you, so that makes a big difference,” he explained. “With the Boks back as well, those fresh faces with new ideas also makes a huge difference.”

With a hit-out against Free State under the belt, that match provided the opportunity to fine-tune their game readiness after an extended break ahead of Saturday’s URC clash.

“Our lineouts didn’t go well, there were mistakes from everyone which we can’t afford, so everyone is aware of the detail needed,” he explained. “So we’ll definitely address our lineout in training this week and then it’s about ownership, each guy taking responsibility. We can’t be hot and cold; we need to be hot all the time. Those weak moments we gave away in the Cheetahs game is definitely something we’ve been working on in training this week.”

Playing this late in the year is a novel idea, although there was rugby last year to play catch-up after the Covid-enforced break. However, it does present certain challenges, not least of all the heat that Durban is renowned for in summer.

“We know how to address the heat and humidity in Durban and what game to play in these conditions because it is different to playing in winter. As a Cheetahs player previously, we knew the heat was coming but didn’t always know how to handle it, and I think that’s something we can use to our advantage. They know the cold over there, we don’t, so the conditions here are something we’re used to and we will look to utilise that for our benefit.”

The weather conditions should be conducive running rugby which also plays into the hands of Scarlets who don’t play the forward dominating style so much as looking to attack.

“Their rugby is a lot like how the Cheetahs play, they look to play a very attacking brand of rugby, bringing the backs and forwards into the action. We expect a lot of the same challenges this weekend that we faced against Free State, but we will definitely be up for everything they bring.

“We’re very keen and we expect a great game.”