Cardiff Blues will welcome the Isuzu Southern Kings on Saturday as they look to strengthen their title hopes in the Guinness PRO14.
Their opponents sit joint last in the other conference and will look to end a run of three straight defeats.
What’s at stake?
The Kings have no hope of breaking into Finals Series in Conference B but need just a point to overtake the Dragons ahead of the Welsh side’s clash with Ulster on Sunday.
They have struggled on the defensive end, conceding a mammoth 80 tries and 554 points in just 16 games this campaign.
Their opponents have fared a lot better, winning their last three at home and proving reliable on both ends of the pitch as they sit in third place in Conference A.
Going into the game, however, they lie 14 points behind second-placed Glasgow Warriors and will be looking over their shoulder at Connacht, Ospreys and Toyota Cheetahs.
Team News (Cardiff)
Jason Harries will make his first start for the Blues since recovering from a foot injury last week to score two against Edinburgh off the bench.
Cardiff will also have Tomos Williams available amongst the replacements after he missed out on Wales’ victory over England.
The Blues will make five changes in all, with Harri Millard, Brad Thyer, Aled Summerhill, Macauley Cook and Scott Andrews coming into the starting lineup.
Team News (Kings)
No.8 Andisa Ntsila will earn his eighth start of the season as Ruaan Lerm fails to recover from a concussion sustained last week.
Elsewhere, captain JC Astle will return to the starting lineup alongside centre Tertius Kruger.
Cardiff Blues Head Coach John Mulvihill said: “It’s an important weekend, because now we can get a break on one of the teams (below us).
“The last three games the Kings have played, they’ve been close at half-time. They play well first half, but they tend to lose a bit of shape towards the end.
“We need to focus on our start, that’s what has been letting us down because we do finish really well.”
Southern Kings Head Coach Deon Davids said: “We have had a tough two matches so far on the tour, and this week against a Cardiff Blues side that is on the back of a good win over Edinburgh will be an equally tough contest.
“We have worked very hard this week to counter whatever they may have up their sleeve this weekend. We are hoping to end this tour on a positive note.”
Key battle – Jason Harries vs Bjorn Basson
The Blues winger transformed the game last week after coming off the bench to score twice, but in a starting berth he’ll have to do well to outshine South African Bjorn Basson.
The veteran Kings player set the try-scoring record in the Currie Cup a few years ago.
Did you know? The Isuzu Southern Kings have not won an away game this season.
Cardiff Blues: Aled Summerhill; Owen Lane, Harri Millard, Willis Halaholo, Jason Harries, Jarrod Evans, Lloyd Williams, Brad Thyer, Liam Belcher, Scott Andrews, George Earle, Macauley Cook, Shane Lewis-Hughes, Olly Robinson, Nick Williams (c).
Replacements: Ethan Lewis, Corey Domachowski, Keiron Assiratti, Rory Thornton, Seb Davies, Tomos Williams, Garyn Smith, Matthew Morgan.
Southern Kings: Ulrich Beyers; Yaw Penxe, Meli Rokoua, Tertius Kruger, Bjorn Basson, Bader Pretorius, Sarel Pretorius, Alulotho Tshakweni, Michael Willemse, De-Jay Terblanche, John-Charles Astle (c), Henry Brown, Martinus Burger, Andisa Ntsila.
Replacements: Alandre van Rooyen, Schalk Ferreira, Lupumlo Mguca, Stephan Greef, Stephan De Wit, Rudi van Rooyen, Nerton Lassen, Masixole Banda.
🔴 TEAM ANNOUNCEMENT ⚫️
— Isuzu Southern Kings (@SouthernKingsSA) March 1, 2019
TV: At Cardiff Arms Park, at 7.35pm (UK Time). Live on Premier Sports and BBC Alba.
Referee: Joy Neville (IRFU)
Assistant referees: Dan Jones (WRU), Mark Patton (IRFU)
TMO: Brian MacNeice (IRFU)
Olly Robinson rounded off a slick team move to score the winning try for Cardiff Blues as they battled past a resilient Isuzu Southern Kings side 26-19 in the Guinness PRO14.
Owen Lane crossed early as Blues came flying out of the gates and captain Nick Williams came back from a sin bin to level things after the bottom-placed side took the lead just after half time.
Tries from Dries van Schalkwyk, Mike Willemse and Masixole Banda weren’t enough for the visitors despite a robust defensive performance against the high-flying Blues.
But Robinson and Jordan Harries exemplified the Blues’ late efforts to notch the bonus point for the Blues that keeps them in contention for a top-three finish in Conference A.
With two minutes on the clock, Lane skipped past three players and ran in his fourth try of the campaign as he took advantage of a leaky Kings defence.
But the South African team stepped up their efforts and landed some huge hits on the Blues during an intense opening period.
Tertius Kruger did well to prevent a Blues breakaway before the hosts tried and failed to break through with dozens of drives.
The Blues squandered an excellent chance to extend their lead but the pass to Shane Lewis-Hughes in space on the left wing went straight into touch.
And the away side grew into the game as half-time approached, gaining a series of scrums deep in opposition territory and pinning Cardiff back, but the Blues responded with some dogged defensive play and effective kicking.
Kings piled on more pressure and forced Blues captain Nick Williams to the sin bin as the South African side inched closer.
They eventually got their deserved reward after a series of determined drives allowed van Schalkwyk to cross the line.
Kings picked up where they left off after half time, scoring through Willemse via a familiar route.
A deep lineout and subsequent maul allowed the hooker to cross the line thanks to a powerful team drive.
The stunned Blues flexed their true pedigree minutes later as Williams finished off a multi-phase move to level up the game.
The skipper forced his way over the line after quick feet from his team mates created the space for the No.8 to drive into.
The hosts continued to push forward as they surgically exploited their opponent’s weakness for their third try of the game.
A jinking run from substitute Matthew Morgan teed up Robinson and the flanker crossed to give his side the lead.
With the fourth try and a bonus point now in sight despite the wet weather, Jarrod Evans flicked the ball out wide to an onrushing Harries, who picked up where he left off against Edinburgh to score the all-important try.
Southern Kings rallied and scored with the last play of the game through Banda to secure a well-deserved losing bonus point.