The only Guinness PRO14 action of the week sees Toyota Cheetahs host Isuzu Southern Kings in Bloemfontein in the second South African derby on the season.
With the Cheetahs on an encouraging run and the Kings buoyant after their incredible last-gasp win over Edinburgh – all is in place for a scintillating showdown in the Free State.
What’s at stake?
Toyota Cheetahs put nine tries past Zebre last time out in a high-scoring 61-28 victory – the highest scoring Guinness PRO14 fixture of the season.
The Bloemfontein outfit are on an excellent run in Conference A; a 21-17 defeat at the hands of Connacht in December their only recent blemish.
The South Africans remain sixth, ten points clear of Zebre, and they will look to close the gap on Cardiff Blues above them with another victory.
Conversely, the Southern Kings have endured a difficult season in Conference B with just one win in their last nine matches.
That victory arrived last weekend with a morale-boosting 25-21 success over Edinburgh and the reverse meeting with the Cheetahs falls just two weeks after the sides last met.
On that occasion, a last-gasp try from Luan de Bruin stole the victory for the Cheetahs, so another tight contest looks to be in prospect.
A win could lift the Kings off the foot of their Conference, with Dragons not in action until next week.
Team News (Toyota Cheetahs)
Cheetahs coach Franco Smith has shuffled his pack as his side go in search of another victory to continue their recent resurgence.
Shaun Venter starts at scrum-half with Rudy Paige providing cover on the bench, while flankers Junior Pokomela and Abongile Nonkontwana switch from blindside to openside respectively.
Both Jasper Wiese and Ernst Stapelberg have been drafted in on the replacements bench, the latter as cover for fly-half Tian Schoeman.
Team News (Southern Kings)
Meli Rokoua’s instrumental role in the Kings’ comeback against Edinburgh last week earns the Fijian a starting spot.
He is the only change to their backline and will start alongside former Cheetah Tertius Kruger.
Kings head coach Deon Davids has also inserted Ruaan Lerm in at No.8 in the place of Andisa Ntsila.
Meanwhile centre Berton Klaasen, who missed last week due to an eye injury, returns to the replacement bench alongside new loan signing in the front row, De-Jay Terblanche.
Toyota Cheetahs head coach Franco Smith expects a tough battle when his side face the Southern Kings.
He said: The longer you play in this competition, the better you adapt and we expect that the Kings would want to cause an upset. They will be up for the challenge and we realise that it is going to a tough.
“The fact that they keep playing right till the very end makes them a dangerous opponent. We’ve worked hard on different aspects of our games since the last encounter.
Southern Kings head coach Deon Davids said: “We learnt a lot of lessons in that first match against the Cheetahs. Scrums are definitely an area that has been a priority for us,” Davids indicated.
“We know what to expect from the Cheetahs. They have some smart coaches, so we know they will have one or two things up their sleeves. What is important for us is to improve on the fundamentals – particularly the scrums and lineouts.”
Key battle: Tian Schoeman v Masixole Banda
The battle between the kickers looks to be a key contest at the Toyota Stadium.
Tian Schoeman has been in impressive form this season and leads the league in conversions with 33 – nine clear of nearest challenger Jack Carty.
With two tries, three assists and five clean breaks, the 27-year-old is more than capable of instigating things offensively.
Maxisole Banda, a full-back, will similarly look to control things and, with 85 points, is an important outlet for the Kings.
Winning this battle will likely decide the outcome of the contest.
Key stat: Kings have not won away from home since beating The Bulls by a single point in Pretoria in Super Rugby in July 2017.
Did you know? Toyota Cheetahs have won their last three Guinness PRO14 matches but have never won four in succession in the Championship.
Toyota Cheetahs: Malcolm Jaer, William Small-Smith, Benhard Janse van Rensburg, Nico Lee, Rabz Maxwane, Tian Schoeman, Shaun Venter (c), Ox Nche, Joseph Dweba, Aranos Coetzee, Sintu Manjezi, Walt Steenkamp, Abongile Nonkontwana, Junior Pokomela, Gerhard Olivier
Replacements: Reinach Venter, Charles Marais, Luan de Bruin, JP du Preez, Jasper Wiese, Niell Jordaan, Rudy Paige, Ernst Stapelberg
Isuzu Southern Kings: Masixole Band, Yaw Penxe, Meli Rokoua, Tertius Kruger, Bjorn Basson, Ntabeni Dukisa, Stefan Ungerer, Schalk Ferreira, Michael Willemse, Luvuyo Pupuma, Andries Van Schalkwyk, John-Charles Astle (c), Cyril John Velleman, Martinus Burger, Ruaan Lerm
Replacements: Alandre Van Rooyen, Alulutho Tshakweni, De-Jay Terblanche, Stephan Greeff, Andisa Ntsila, Sarel Pretorius, Bader Pretorius, Berton Klaasen
At Toyota Stadium, Bloemfontein, 4pm local time; 2pm GMT
TV: Live on Premier Sports, SuperSport, Eir Sport
Referee: Stuart Barry (SARU, 20th competition game)
Assistant Referees: Quinton Immelman and Cwengile Jadezweni (both SARU)
TMO: Marius Jonker (SARU)
Citing Commissioner: Christopher Boucher (SARU)
Toyota Cheetahs pulled off a bonus point derby victory over South African rivals Isuzu Southern Kings as Reinach Venter secured the hosts a fourth successive victory for the first time in the Guinness PRO14.
Kings roared back to within four points, but Franco Smith’s men had earlier rallied by scoring six tries to come out on top in Bloemfontein.
Masixole Banda’s penalty put the visitors ahead inside the first minute, but the Cheetahs broke back immediately through captain Shaun Venter as he dummied his way to a third try in successive matches. Tian Schoeman added the extras.
The Cheetahs steadily grew in confidence and they extended their advantage, largely thanks to the drive of flanker Junior Pokomela, as the ball was threaded to Schoeman and the fly-half dodged his way to the try line to score his first Guinness PRO14 try before again converting.
Things got worse for the Kings as Meli Rokoua’s was given a yellow card and with the man advantage Cheetahs immediately capitalised as the ball was worked wide to the right flank by Benhard Janse van Rensberg for William Small-Smith to dive over the whitewash for his third try of the season.
After substantial pressure, Kings suddenly had the man advantage after Joseph Dweba was sin-binned and from the resultant line-out a neatly worked move enabled Cyril Velleman to crash over. Banda converted to chip away at the lead.
The Cheetahs were down to 13 men two minutes before the break with Small-Smith sin-binned, but Franco Smith’s men held out to secure a 19-10 half-time advantage.
Kings comeback continued six minutes after the restart as Rokoua inspired a stunning breakaway before expertly threading in Yaw Penxe with the inside of his hand for the wing to power his way over the line and cut the lead to four points.
But Kings’ resistance was swiftly ended as a full-strength Cheetahs secured their bonus point after a flowing move from right to left was finished off by full-back Malcolm Jaer against his former employers.
Victory was wrapped up for the hosts as the league’s top try scorer Rabz Maxwane and Schoeman combined for Pokomela to dart his way over the line for his fourth career try.
But it was double punishment for Kings as Velleman made contact with Pokomela’s head, leaving referee Stuart Berry with no other decision but to brandish a red card.
Hooker Venter added what proved to be a crucial sixth try for the hosts as Tienie Burger, Alandre van Rooyen and Harlon Klaasen scored late consolation tries to secure two bonus points for the Kings.