The Cheetahs and Southern Kings will look to bounce back strongly from their disappointing PRO14 tours when they host Welsh sides, Ospreys and the Dragons, respectively this weekend in the third-last pool round.
With only two matches remaining after this round and the sides seeing out the season in South Africa, they will be highly motivated to finish the competition on a memorable note.
Ospreys PRO14 fate in Cheetahs hands
The Cheetahs can expect a fierce challenge from Ospreys, who are fighting for survival in the Conference A playoff race, when they meet in Bloemfontein on Saturday (kick-off 17:30).
The visitors are in a similar situation to that the Free Staters faced two weeks ago – they need to win all their remaining matches with bonus points to keep alive their slim hopes of progressing beyond the pool stages.
The Cheetahs will enter their match against Ospreys with one goal in mind when the teams take to the field at the Stadium on Saturday, and that will be to return to winning ways at home.
With the Welshmen under immense pressure to keep alive their slender hopes of sneaking into the playoffs, the hosts will be wary of the fact that they hold Ospreys’ fate in their hands. As things stand, the visitors need to win all three of their remaining pool matches, while hoping that Connacht and the Cardiff Blues slip up to stay in the race.
With only two matches remaining after this round, the Cheetahs are highly motivated to finish the competition on a memorable note.
Captain Shaun Venter and his side have been preparing for fierce competition from Ospreys, but the Cheetahs are aiming to win all the remaining matches at home.
“We are much better than at the start of the season and our goal is to win all three matches at home,” aid Venter. “We want to make the supporters proud.”
The teams have met three times before, with the Free Staters winning the clash in Bloemfontein in 2017, while Ospreys’ won the last two outings on their home patch. One of these victories, however, was by a single point, which will serve as extra inspiration for the home side.
The last time the Cheetahs registered a victory was in Bloemfontein on 2 February – which marked back-to-back home wins for them – and this will be a big talking point among Franco Smiths’ charges as they look to take advantage of a home stretch featuring three home games.
The Cheetahs will enter the match with a superior attack after scoring 64 tries to Ospreys’ 40 this season, which will give them confidence, but they will need to support this with a tenacious defensive effort, as the visitors have conceded close to two tries fewer per match on average this season.
Speedster Rabz Maxwane, with an impressive 13 tries to his name, is currently still the top try-scorer in the competition with a five-try buffer over his closest rivals. He is also a single try short of the competition record of 14 tries and has two matches better the record he would undoubtedly like to extend as the pool rounds reach a conclusion.
Tian Schoeman who is currently in fifth place on the list of the top points’ scorers with 96 points will have his sights set on hitting triple digits this weekend.
♦ At 15:00 the Free State Cheetahs XV will play Griquas in a SuperSport Rugby Challenge warm-up game. In the first curtain raiser of the day which kicks off at 13:00 the SA Invitational XV Deaf team will be taking on the Blue Bulls Deaf team. This is the last match of the inaugural Stones Cup tournament for deaf rugby teams.
15 Malcolm Jaer, 14 William Small-Smith, 13 Benhard Janse van Rensburg, 12 Dries Swanepoel, 11 Rabz Maxwane, 10 Tian Schoeman, 9 Shaun Venter (captain), 8 Henco Venter, 7 Abongile Nonkontwana, 6 Gerhard Olivier, 5 Walt Steenkamp, 4 Sintu Manjezi, 3 Luan de Bruin, 2 Joseph Dweba, 1 Charles Marais. Replacements: 16 Marnus van der Merwe, 17 Aranos Coetzee, 18 Reinach Venter, 19 JP du Preez, 20 Jasper Wiese, 21 Justin Basson, 22 Rudy Paige, 23 Louis Fouché.
15 Dan Evans, 14 Hanno Dirksen, 13 Cory Allen, 12 Owen Watkin, 11 Keenan Giles, 10 Luke Price, 9 Aled Davies, 8 James King, 7 Justin Tipuric (captain), 6 Olly Cracknell, 5 Bradley Davies, 4 Adam Beard, 3 Tom Botha, 2 Scott Baldwin, 1 Nicky Smith. Replacements: 16 Scott Otten, 17 Rhodri Jones, 18 Ma’afu Fia, 19 Dan Lydia, 20 Sam Cross, 21 Matthew Aubrey, 22 Sam Davies, 23 Luke Morgan.
Referee: John Lacey (IRFU)
Assistant referees: Sean Gallagher (IRFU) and Ben Crouse (SA Rugby)
TMO: Johan Greeff (SA Rugby)
Can the Southern Kings tame the Dragons?
The Southern Kings, with Dries van Schalkwyk and Berton Klaasen in line to reach special milestones this weekend, will be determined to remain above the Dragons on the Conference B log, as they hunt their third victory of the season when the sides cross paths at Madibaz Stadium in Port Elizabeth on Sunday.
It will be Van Schalkwyk’s 100th PRO14 appearance – he has 76 matches for Zebre and 23 for the Kings thus far – while Klaasen, with 34 PRO14 and 15 Super Rugby games, will notch up a half century for the Southern Kings if he is called on from the bench.
The 34-year-old Van Schalkwyk played provincial rugby in South Africa for seven unions – Free State, the Valke, Boland, the Blue Bulls, Golden Lions, Leopards and Eastern Province – before moving to Italy, where he also made his international debut and played in 15 Tests for the Azzurri, before returning to South Africa last year.
Deon Davids’ charges hold a narrow one-point lead over the Dragons, but with the home side determined to please their fans in their penultimate home game, and the Dragons looking to earn their first away win this season, both teams will give everything.
The last time the sides met in Port Elizabeth, the hosts registered a comprehensive 45-13 victory, but the situation was vastly different at the Rodney Parade last September where the Southern Kings went down 27-22 in a close encounter.
The hosts will look to build on their encouraging attacking track record this season, which has seen them score 17 more tries than the Dragons, but their defence will have to be equally effective to tame the Dragons, who have earned two more victories.
Coming into this clash, one point separates the two sides in sixth and seventh position in Conference B, with the Kings no doubt keen to put some distance between the Dragons and themselves on the log to avoid the wooden spoon.
♦ Interestingly, the Dragons will field former Springbok fullback Zane Kircher and former Stormers prop Brok Harris against the Kings on Sunday.
15 Masixole Banda, 14 Yaw Penxe, 13 Harlon Klaasen, 12 Tertius Kruger, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Bader Pretorius, 9 Stefan Ungerer, 8 Ruaan Lerm, 7 Tienie Burger, 6 Andisa Ntsila, 5 JC Astle, 4 Dries van Schalkwyk, 3 De-Jay Terblanche, 2 Michael Willemse, 1 Schalk Ferreira. Replacements: 16 Alandré van Rooyen, 17 Alulutho Tshakweni, 18 Pieter Scholtz, 19 Stephan Greeff, 20 Steph de Wit, 21 Rudi van Rooyen, 22 Berton Klaasen, 23 Ulrich Beyers.
15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Jared Rosser, 13 Adam Warren, 12 Jack Dixon, 11 Hallam Amos, 10 Josh Lewis, 9 Rhodri Williams, 8 Ross Moriarty, 7 Taine Basham, 6 Aaron Wainwright, 5 Matthew Screech, 4 Max Williams, 3 Leon Brown, 2 Richard Hubbard (captain), 1 Brok Harris. Replacements: 16 Rhys Lawrence, 17 Ryan Bevington, 18 Lloyd Fairbrother, 19 Huw Taylor, 20 Lennon Greggains, 21 Tavis Knoyle, 22 Jason Tovey, 23 Jordan Williams.
Referee: Frank Murphy (IRFU)
Assistant referees: Andrew Brace (IRFU), Paul Mente (SARU)
TMO: Shaun Veldsman (SARU)
The other Round 19 matches (SA times) –
20:35: Glasgow Warriors vs Ulster - Scotstoun Stadium, Glasgow
20:35: Munster vs Cardiff Blues - Irish Independent Park, Cork
18:30: Zebre vs Connacht - Stadio Lanfranchi, Parma
19:45: Scarlets vs Edinburgh - Parc y Scarlets, Llanelli
20:45: Leinster vs Benetton - RDS Arena, Dublin