The match at Emirates Airline Park kicks off at 16h05, will be refereed by AJ Jacobs, and broadcast live on SuperSport. Benneton and Glasgow Warriors will get the season underway in Italy on Friday when they clash from 18h30 at the Stadio Monigo in Treviso.
The Vodacom Bulls finished the inaugural season of the Vodacom URC as runners-up to the DHL Stormers following an enthralling all-South African final in Cape Town, and the men from Pretoria will be determined to go one step further this season, especially since they have bolstered their squad with some significant reinforcements.
They fell agonisingly short in the Cape Town Grand Finale but have made a couple of exciting additions in the shape of, amongst other, powerful Springbok wing Sbu Nkosi and former Emirates Lions midfield stalwart Wandisile Simelane, both of whom will start in the Vodacom Bulls’ backline this weekend.
The men in blue, coached by Director of Rugby Jake White, will undoubtedly be strong challengers once again but will hope to make a better start than they did last season, when five defeats in their opening six matches left them playing catch-up.
Vodacom Bulls captain Marcell Coetzee said after an intensive few weeks of pre-season training, his charges are raring to go and are eager to run onto the Emirates Airline Park turf when they take on their neighbours in the Gauteng Derby.
“It’s the first Vodacom URC game and everyone is excited. It has been a gruelling six weeks of pre-season and now everyone is just looking forward to the first game,” said Coetzee.
Meanwhile, the Emirates Lions were the only one of the four South African sides to miss out on a place in the play-offs last season and have lost some key players over the summer, in Simelane, while Vincent Tshituka (loose forward) and Carlu Sadie (prop) have joined the Cell C Sharks, and Burger Odendaal (centre) leaving for Wasps in England.
The hope in Johannesburg will be that those who have come in can fill that void and lead them closer to the top eight. Two of their new signings – former Cell C Sharks centre Marius Louw and Springbok fullback Andries Coetzee, who is back in Joburg following a stint with Benetton – were included in their starting backline for the clash against the Vodacom Bulls.
Ivan van Rooyen has named experienced lock Reinhardt Nothnagel as captain of the Emirates Lions for Saturday’s round one clash with their neighbours.
“We had a pre-season to settle as a squad and team and from game one now we will have fans at our games, which only happened in the middle of the season previously. We are really looking at connecting as a team and connecting to fans,” said Van Rooyen.
Defending champions, the DHL Stormers, and the Cell C Sharks are not in action this weekend.
Emirates Lions v Vodacom Bulls
Date: Saturday, 17 September
Venue: Emirates Airline Park, Johannesburg
SA Time: 16h05
Referee: AJ Jacobs
Vodacom United Rugby Championship fixtures – Round 1 (SA times):
Friday, 16 September
18h30: Benetton vs Glasgow Warriors (Treviso)
Saturday, 17 September
14h00: Zebre Parma vs Leinster (Parma)
16h05: Cardiff vs Munster (Cardiff)
16h05: Emirates Lions vs Vodacom Bulls (Johannesburg)
18h15: Scarlets vs Ospreys (Llanelli)
20h35: Ulster vs Connacht (Belfast)
20h35: Edinburgh vs Dragons (Edinburgh)