Munster are set to face South African side the Cell C Sharks in Thomond Park this Saturday in their first game of the United Rugby Championship.
With the disposal of the Pro14 and the birth of the United Rugby Championship, this season opener for Munster will stand out among all that came before.
With the addition of four new South African teams, namely the Bulls, Sharks, Lions and Stormers, the URC will undoubtedly cultivate a new wave of professional rugby incomparable to previous competitions across the globe.
Munster face South African newcomers the Cell C Sharks in their maiden URC fixture in Thomond park this Saturday and this first weekend of fixtures has been highly anticipated by rugby fans all over the world.
Yet, the Sharks will bring a style and stature of rugby to Thomond Park that few teams have brought before. If Munster wish to maintain the dominant position they held in the Pro14 through to the URC, they will be forced to adjust to this inverse style style of rugby brought to the URC by the four new South African sides.
Who are the Sharks?
The Cell C Sharks are a team based out of Durban in KwaZulu Natal, South Africa. Having Competed in the southern Hemisphere’s Super rugby tournament since the clubs conception in 1995, the Sharks never managed to win a trophy.
The closest the club came was in 2012 when they hosted the Bulls (now also in the URC) in the Super Rugby final, losing to a sublime Bryan Habana try in the games closing minutes.
However despite the Sharks never finding their feet in the southern hemisphere, sharing a time zone with both the URC and the Champions Cup could make all the difference.
The Sharks have been the home to some of international rugbys most famous names, such as France’s Frédéric Michalak and former Springbok legends Tendai Mtawarira and Bismarck du Plessis.
Currently the Sharks boast a wealth of talent, such as Springbok captain Siya Kolisi and Springbok centre Lukhanyo Am. However due to international commitments, both Kolisi and Am will be unavailable for the URC opener against Munster.
Even without their key internationals, the Sharks have plenty depth within their squad to cover those key positions. Back-row Phepsi Buthelezi will fill in Am’s role as captain for the URC’s opening fixtures, while other players like Werner Kok and Thaakir Abrahams are definitely ones to watch on Saturday if they are selected.
Munster will be looking to start the campaign with a win, with the highly anticipated return of Simon Zebo should certainly boost morale within the camp. Another welcomed return will be that of RG Snyman as he will make his Thomand Park debut following his recovery from injury, one that had the South African sidelined for all of last season.
The excitement will be high amongst the Munster faithful as Craig Casey and Joey Carbery start together and will partner one another in the half-backs.
Their top try scorer last season Gavin Coombes will also take to the Thomand Park field this Saturday following his record breakout season that had earned him Player of the Year. Coombes had made the most carries also last year with an impressive 148.
The newly formed championship will offer a new intensity to provincial rugby and no doubt Munster would love to win the inaugural championship campaign.
The home side are coming into this fixture off the back of an inter squad challenge match and a strong and dynamic performance away at Sandy Park against a strong Exeter Chiefs side in which numerous members of the squad got minutes.
Johann van Graan’s men had made 364 appearances in the old format known as the Guinness Pro14, winning 240, drawing seven and losing 117.
The match will kick off at 7.35pm and will be broadcast on URC TV, RTÉ, Super Sport and Premier Sports.