As we head into the business end of the Guinness PRO14 season, Toyota Cheetahs continue their hunt for domestic success with the ultimate test away at defending champions Leinster on Saturday.
The hosts are somewhat short of match practice having last played in the Championship back at the start of January, while the South Africans boosted their Final Series hopes with back-to-back victories over fellow countrymen Isuzu Southern Kings at the turn of this month.
Having suffered a dip in form after their blistering start to the campaign, Hawies Fourie’s men have enjoyed three wins in their last four Guinness PRO14 matches and head to Dublin looking for victory in Ireland for the first time ever.
Cheetahs will be buoyed by the fact several of their opponents’ big hitters are away on Guinness Six Nations duty but will be equally aware they are set for a daunting task against a side that hasn’t tasted defeat in any competition so far this season.
Leo Cullen’s Leinster are chasing an unblemished campaign and, having not lost at home since last April, will be confident of strengthening their position at the top of Conference A – in which they already boast an 11-point lead – with a win here.
Kick-off: RDS Arena | Saturday 15th February | KO 14:30 (UK), 14:30 (SA)
How to watch: Live on Premier Sports, eir sport, DAZN, pro14.tv
Players to watch out for: With the Guinness Six Nations taking a rest this weekend, Leinster have welcomed back a handful of their Irish internationals.
And, given the Cheetahs’ much-vaunted back-three – anchored by free-scoring full-back Rhyno Smith – his presence will certainly be welcomed, while in the pack Max Deegan starts at No.8 after making his debut in green last weekend.
Key stat: Leinster have lost just once to a South African opponent in the Championship, on a visit to Cheetahs in September 2017.
Leinster: Rob Kearney, Fergus McFadden, Jimmy O’Brien, Joe Tomane, Dave Kearney, Ciarán Frawley, Luke McGrath, Peter Dooley, Rónan Kelleher, Michael Bent, Ross Molony, Scott Fardy (c) Rhys Ruddock, Will Connors, Max Deegan (60)
Replacements: Seán Cronin, Michael Milne, Roman Salanoa, Ryan Baird, Scott Penny, Jamison Gibson-Park, Harry Byrne, Cian Kelleher
Toyota Cheetahs: Rhyno Smith, Clayton Blommetjies, William Small-Smith, Benhard Janse van Rensburg, Rabz Maxwane, Tian Schoeman, Ruan Pienaar (c), Charles Marais, Joseph Dweba, Aranos Coetzee, Walt Steenkamp, JP du Preez, Chris Massyn, Junior Pokomela, Jasper Wiese
Replacements: Wilmar Arnoldi, Boan Venter, Luan de Bruin, Aidon Davis, Gerhard Olivier, Tian Meyer, Louis Fouche, Chris Smit
Conference A leaders Leinster Rugby extended their unbeaten run in the Guinness PRO14 to 11 games after beating Cheetahs 36-12 in treacherous conditions at the RDS Arena.
Tries from Michael Bent, Ronan Kelleher Rhys Ruddock and two from Will Connors gave the Irish province a comprehensive bonus-point victory in Dublin.
With two stands closed due to Storm Dennis, the hosts started positively after open-side prop Connors powered over for Leinster’s first score – Ciaran Frawley converting.
After Charles Marais was sin binned following a series of infringements by the visitors, fly-half Ciaran Frawley’s three-pointer extended Leinster’s lead just before the half-hour mark.
It did not take long for Leinster to score a second try, with Max Deegan’s break providing his side front-foot ball before prop Michael Bent bulldozed his way over.
And as the Cheetahs returned to a full contingent, Leinster added their third of the afternoon with Ronan Kelleher crossing over on the stroke of half-time after a powerful line-out maul from the Irish province.
Leinster picked up where they left off in the second period with Rhys Ruddock’s score clinching the try-scoring bonus point before Connors added another to his tally for the afternoon.
With replacement Sean Cronin in the bin, the South African side took advantage of the extra man as Luan de Bruin darted over from short range.
In the last play of the game Cheetahs scored a second try through Aidon Davis, but it was a deserved victory for the hosts.
Man of the match
Will Connors was in stellar form all afternoon for Leinster.
His work ethic, endeavour and numerous carries were crucial as the home side impressed in tough conditions, not to mention an excellent couple of tries from the back-row.
Play of the day
Despite Leinster’s dominance, it was the visitors in complete control at scrum time in the second 40.
After numerous attempts to convert their authority into points, the Cheetahs managed to display great resolve to cross over courtesy of de Bruin.