Two Guinness PRO14 play-off contenders face off in Bloemfontein on Saturday evening at 7.35pm local time (5.35pm GMT) as the Toyota Cheetahs host the Scarlets.
Both sides are coming off victories last weekend, the Cheetahs at home to Edinburgh and the Scarlets in Port Elizabeth against the Southern Kings.
What’s at stake? The Cheetahs have lost just once at home this season, while the Scarlets have only dropped one game in all in the Guinness PRO14 so something has to give this weekend. With a run of away fixtures on the horizon for the Cheetahs, this game is crucial for the South African side, while the Scarlets will be finishing their southern tour with this game.
Team news (Toyota Cheetahs): Rory Duncan has made just one change to his starting lineup with Craig Barry coming onto the wing in place of Luther Obi. Elsewhere it is the same side that beat Edinburgh, with the sole change on the bench seeing Sibhale Maxwane included.
Team news (Edinburgh): The Scarlets will hand Mike Phillips, who made his comeback from retirement last weekend, a first start for the club at scrum-half. The only other change to the matchday 23 is the return of James Davies to the starting line-up in the back row. Emergency loan signing Herschel Jantjies will provide scrum-half cover after agreeing to a short-term deal this week.
Talking points: There are plenty of talking points from a Scarlets perspective with the return of Davies and Phillips getting a start. The veteran Wales and Lions scrum-half played his part in the comeback win over the Kings and gets the nod from the off this week. His back-up, Jantjies, is available on a one-week loan as Scarlets try to cope with their scrum-half crisis.
Key Battle: Rynier Bernardo v James Davies
The battle of the openside flankers should be a familiar one in some ways, with Rynier Bernardo coming up against his former club. The Cheetahs flanker spent last season at the Scarlets, and also had two years with the Ospreys so will know all about the threat of Davies. The 27-year-old is back fit again, and having been one of the spearheads of last season’s title challenge, Wayne Pivac will be thrilled to have him back.
Key Stat: The Cheetahs have been very strong at home but you have to go back to September for the last time they won successive games. Meanwhile the Scarlets have lost just one match in the Guinness PRO14 since March, a 27-20 loss at Ulster in September.
Did you know? The Toyota Cheetahs have both the highest points scorer (Ernst Stapelberg) and highest try-scorer (Makazole Mapimpi) in the Guinness PRO14. However, they will again be without Stapelberg this weekend with Fred Zeilinga starting at fly-half.
Toyota Cheetahs: Clayton Blommetjies; Craig Barry, William Small-Smith, Nico Lee, Makazole Mapimpi; Fred Zeilinga, Shaun Venter; Charles Marais, Torsten van Jaarsveld, Johan Coetzee; Carl Wegner, Hugo Reniel; Paul Schoeman, Rynier Bernardo, Junior Pokomela
Replacements: Jacques du Toit, Ox Nche, Tom Botha, Jasper Wiese, Daniel Maartens, Tian Meyer, Tertius Kruger, Sibhale Maxwane
Scarlets: Johnny McNicholl, Tom Prydie, Steff Hughes, Paul Asquith, Ioan Nicholas, Dan Jones, Mike Phillips, Dylan Evans, Ryan Elias, Werner Kruger, Lewis Rawlins, David Bulbring, Tadhg Beirne, James Davies, Will Boyde
Replacements: Taylor Davies, Rhys Fawcett, Simon Gardiner, Steven Cummins, Josh Macleod, Herschel Jantjies, Ioan Hughes, Morgan Williams
TV: SuperSport 1: 7.20pm (SA), S4C: 5.15pm (UK)
Match officials – Referee: Quinton Immelman (SARU), AR1: Stephen Geldenhuys (SARU). AR2: Jaco Kotze (SARU), TMO: Marius Jonker (SARU).
Guinness PRO14 Final 2018 Ticket Information: Fans can save up to 20% on selected tickets, and prices start at just €30 for adults and €5 for children, and can be booked via www.ticketmaster.ie
Craig Barry bagged a brace as the Toyota Cheetahs racked up their second successive home victory in the Guinness PRO14 by besting the Scarlets at the Free State Stadium.
The Cheetahs, who saw off Edinbrugh Rugby 33-13 in Round Nine, claimed another crucial victory in their bid to make the Conference A play-offs while the Scarlets were unable to follow up their dramatic 34-30 victory over the Southern Kings in Port Elizabeth last time out.
The two sides exchanged penalties inside the first seven minutes, Dan Jones bisecting the posts for the visitors while Fred Zeilinga kicked over for the Cheetahs.
The same two players came to the fore again shortly afterwards, Zeilinga and Jones successfully landing a further penalty each and in the 20th minute, the Cheetahs came close to scoring the first try of the game, only for Johnny McNicholl to superbly halt Shaun Venter as he bore down on the try-line.
Five minutes later, the hosts did manage to go over through William Small-Smith, Zeilinga booting the extras, and the Cheetahs fly-half was at it again 10 minutes later, slotting another penalty to make it 16-6.
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In a flash, the Scarlets set about chipping away at the deficit and they hit straight back, McNicholl feeding James Davies, who turned on the afterburners to escape the attentions of two orange shirts before diving over for his team’s first try of the evening.
The two teams slugged it out in the early throes of the second period, with Zeilinga missing a penalty in the 55th minute as the Scarlets remained within touching distance.
But on the hour, the hosts did lunge further in front following a moment of magic from Craig Barry, the Cheetahs man setting off on a blistering run and carving his way through the heart of the visiting defence before racing over the line, Zeilinga converting.
Almost in a flash though, the Scarlets’ Ioan Nicholas produced a stunning solo score of his own, the youngster showing a clean pair of heels to the Cheetahs back line before Jones added the extras to make it 23-18.
But with just over 10 minutes to go, Barry crossed for the second time, the hosts working through phase after phase before the Cheetahs flyer capitalised on a bouncing ball to put his side 10 points ahead.
Tom Prydie’s late penalty brought the Scarlets back to within a converted score with just four minutes of play remaining but they were unable to muster a final breakthrough as the Cheetahs claimed victory.