United Rugby Championship: Stormers v Ulster, DHL Stadium, Saturday, 1pm – Live on Premier Sports 1
This should be interesting. Ulster become the first Irish side to be hosted by the Stormers, and while Dan McFarland’s side will be grateful to be playing at sea level rather than at altitude, they will still have to cope with temperatures in the early 20s and an in-form and upwardly mobile home side.
Indeed, now that the South African franchises are having a run of home games they are all climbing up the table, with eight wins across the past two weekends.
The Stormers have lost only once, away to Connacht, in their last seven games, and they sit second of the South African sides, two points behind the Sharks, and seventh overall. With this being the first of five home games in a row, the last of them being against Leinster, before finishing away to Scarlets, they can have genuine designs on the play-offs and maybe even a home quarter-final.
The Cape Town outfit are further boosted by the relaxation of restrictions on home supporters and the return from injury of Springboks tighthead Frans Malherbe, who will make his first appearance in the URC in one of four changes. Hooker Chad Solomon replaces injured Springbok Scarra Ntubeni, Ernst van Rhyn is introduced at openside flanker and Paul de Wet comes in at scrum-half.
The Dublin-born Alan O’Connor will captain Ulster on his 150th appearance for the province since coming through their academy system.
McFarland makes six changes from the side which recorded a fifth successive win by beating Leinster to move within a point of the leaders, recalling three of his Ireland internationals: Mike Lowry, Rob Herring and Kieran Treadwell.
Eric O'Sullivan returns at loosehead, as does winger Rob Lyttle, while there is a first start since January for scrum-half John Cooney. Duane Vermeulen is also set to come up against his former side. On the bench, centre Luke Marshall is in line for his first appearance since November 2020 after recovering from a long-term knee injury.
Ulster have lost only once in 10 previous meetings with South African sides, but this looks to have the makings of a closely fought encounter. Forecast: Stormers to win.
DHL STORMERS: Warrick Gelant, Seabelo Senatla, Ruhan Nel, Damian Willemse, Leolin Zas, Manie Libbok, Paul de Wet, Steven Kitshoff (CAPT), Chad Solomon, Frans Malherbe, Adre Smith, Marvin Orie, Deon Fourie, Ernst van Rhyn, Evan Roos. Replacements: JJ Kotze, Brok Harris, Neethling Fouche, Connor Evans, Hacjivah Dayimani, Junior Pokomela, Herschel Jantjies, Rikus Pretorius. ULSTER: Mike Lowry, Craig Gilroy, Stewart Moore, Stuart McCloskey, Rob Lyttle, Billy Burns, John Cooney, Eric O'Sullivan, Rob Herring, Marty Moore, Alan O'Connor (CAPT), Kieran Treadwell, Greg Jones, Marcus Rea, Duane Vermeulen. Replacements: Tom Stewart, Callum Reid, Gareth Milasinovich, Mick Kearney, Jordi Murphy, David Shanahan, Luke Marshall, Ethan McIlroy. Referee: Gianluca Gnecchi(FIR).