Munster and three other United Rugby Championship entrants head to South Africa this week for their first forays into the Southern Hemisphere.
Teams will not only have to deal with changing conditions, but also with height and home advantage for the local teams – something that has been sorely lacking in the tournament so far.
A number of teams will also find themselves without some of their international stars, who will be in action at the Six Nations this weekend, making it even more difficult to win the games that have been rescheduled from December.
“A huge challenge”, said Munster coach Johann van Graan when asked about the trip to SA.
“The Bulls at Loftus will be big, the Lions at Ellis Park. South African teams came here in the cold, now we have to go to the heat.
“It’s getting hot in South Africa and we’re dealing with the altitude and a Bulls team and a Lions team that are very hard to beat at Loftus and Ellis Park,” added Van Graan.
“It’s a great challenge for our boys. We’ll lose a few more players to the national team, so we’ll see who we have before the flight tomorrow morning.
“I’m really looking forward to this and going to enjoy the next two weeks and measure us against the South African teams in their backyard.”
Munster takes on the Bulls on Saturday in arguably the biggest clash of the weekend and heads to South Africa at full throttle after destroying the Dragons 64-3 on Saturday night – one attempt less than their biggest ever win in the competition . The Limerick side is currently third on the log and looking to grab some points on the road.
Jake White’s side lay in wait, playing some of their stalwarts in the Currie Cup win over Griquas, giving the players time to face Loftus.
The weekend kicks off with a ravishing showdown between the Sharks and Scarlets, with the Welsh side shocking the fourth seeded Glasgow Warriors 35-10 over the weekend to the amazement of several pundits.
As Scarlets came back from 10-0 in the game, their performance in the second half will serve as a warning to the Sharks.
While Ulster and Leinster both racked up huge wins over the weekend to top the table – Leinster crushed Benetton 61-17 while Ulster took Cardiff to battle with a comprehensive 48-12 win on Friday night – the brave Zebre brought Welsh side Ospreys close for a 27 -22 loss and gave themselves hope for their South African adventure.
Cardiff will face the Lions on Sunday as part of a double header with Zebre traveling to Stellenbosch to face the Stormers.
All four touring teams should have a significantly harder time against the South African sides who have enjoyed the prospect of meeting them since entering the competition.
Weekend URC Results
Ulster 48 Cardiff 12
Edinburgh 56 Connacht 8
Munster 64 Dragons 3
Scarlets 35 Glasgow Warriors 10
Benetton 17 Leinster 61
Ospreys 27 Zebre Parma 22