Connacht welcome the Toyota Cheetahs to the Sportsground in a tantalising clash between two sides chasing a quarter-final spot.
Just two points separate the sides in the water-tight Conference A table, meaning that this one looks chocked with narrative ahead of the Saturday tea-time kick-off.
What’s at stake?
There is little to choose between third-place and sixth in Conference A, with Ospreys and Connacht’s 38-points putting them just two ahead of Cardiff Blues and the Cheetahs.
As the Guinnes PRO14 hots up, with just seven rounds of action remaining, both sides will therefore be desperate to steal a march on their opponents and make a charge for the knockouts.
Team news (Connacht)
Andy Friend will be delighted to welcome back Ultan Dillane, Caolin Blade, Jack Carty and Tom Farrell from international duty.
Kieran Marmion also returns to the bench after recovering from injury for a side captained by Jarrad Butler at No8.
Team news (Cheetahs)
Marnus van der Merwe and Dries Swanepoel make their maiden starts for the Cheetahs, Louis Fouche replaces the injured Malcolm Jaer at fullback.
Ox Nche makes his return after missing the derby clash against the Isuzu Southern Kings, while Henco Venter is back in Guinness PRO14 action after his stint with the Toshiba Brave Lupus in Japan.
Connacht head coach Andy Friend said: “Since we played them earlier in the season they have been improving steadily and have the results to show for it.
“They are real contenders in the conference now, so we know the important of this game in the context of the overall season.
“They are a really hard team to play against and even trying to review them can be difficult. They seem to play so off the cuff that it can be difficult to predict what they are going to do next. We know the threat they pose in attack so we will face a huge challenge.”
Toyota Cheetahs head coach Franco Smith said: “We need to learn how to be more focused, specially thinking of the last three tries we stood of against the Southern Kings. We would like to come back from tour with a more experience and apply what we’ve learned so far.
“We have a good team. Players in the team work hard, especially with the new players in the squad. After the last four matches, the hunger is back, the urgency to be the best in their positions – the competitiveness is back and intensity at training is very high.”
Tom Farrell v Dries Swanepoel
It was the tightest of contests when these sides last met back in December, with the Irish outfit edging a 21-17 triumph in Bloemfontein.
It was a fixture of fine margins, and Tom Farrell’s try provided one of those crucial turning points.
The talented centre is up against Dries Swanepoel on Saturday, who has just the solitary Guinness PRO14 appearance to his name, and will be charged with keeping quiet a key cog of Connacht’s attack.
Key fact: Connacht Rugby’s only win in the last four rounds of the Guinness PRO14 was 21-12 at home to Ulster on 28 December.
Did you know? Cheetahs are without a win in their last five matches against Irish provinces, since beating Connacht in Bloemfontein in March 2018. The South Africans record on visits to Ireland in Guinness PRO14 is played four lost four.
Connacht: Darragh Leader, Cian Kelleher, Tom Farrell, Tom Daly, Stephen Fitzgerald, Jack Carty, Caolin Blade; Denis Buckley, Tom McCartney, Finlay Bealham, Ultan Dillane, James Cannon, Eoin McKeon, Colby Fainga’a, Jarrad Butler (c)
Replacements: Dave Heffernan, Peter McCabe, Dominic Robertson-McCoy, Cillian Gallagher, Paul Boyle, Kieran Marmion, Conor Fitzgerald, Kyle Godwin
Toyota Cheetahs: Louis Fouche, William Small-Smith, Dries Swanepoel, Nico Lee, Rabz Maxwane, Tian Schoeman, Shaun Venter; Charles Marais, Marnus van der Merwe, Aranos Coetzee, Jasper Wiese, JP du Preez, Abongile Nonkontwana, Junior Pokomela, Gerhard Olivier
Replacements: Reinach Venter, Ox Nche, Luan de Bruin, Sintu Manjezi, Walt Steenkamp, Henco Venter, Tian Meyer, Rudy Paige
TV: At The Sportsground, Galway, 5.30pm. Live on Free Sports, TG4, SuperSport, Eir Sports
Referee: Nigel Owens
Assistant Referees: John Lacey, Mike English
TMO: Brian MacNeice
Citing Commissioner: Tim Lowry
Connacht captain Jarrad Butler secured victory over Cheetahs with a late try at the Sportsground, set up by the imperious Jack Carty.
The South Africans were ahead at half time thanks to scores from Rabs Maxwane and Louis Fouche, with Tom Farrell keeping the hosts’ hopes alive.
Andy Friend’s side went ahead after the break thanks to a score from hooker Tom McCartney, but Shaun Venter’s brilliant solo effort squared it up midway through the second half.
But four minutes from time, Carty whipped out a pass to Butler, who found himself on the wing and showed his power to shrug off his marker and cross the whitewash to seal the deal.
Tian Schoeman set up the opening try for Cheetahs with a lovely grubber behind the home defence for Maxwane to chase and pounce on, with the No. 10 converting too.
Fouche added another after 20 minutes, with the typically free-flowing rugby and great hands from the South Africans exploiting the space on the outside.
But the hosts hit back not long after, pounding away at the Cheetahs defence on the line and eventually Farrell crashed through the back-line and stretched to dot down.
Carty converted, his second successful kick from the tee following an earlier penalty, and suddenly there was only two points in it at the break.
Connacht showed their strength in the pack to take the lead for the first time 47 minutes in, with McCartney falling over the line off the back of a driving maul line-out.
Carty again added the extras to make it 17-10 and set up an intriguing last half an hour.
In a great back-and-forth game, Cheetahs levelled it up just over 10 minutes later as they turned over the ball and got it out to Venter, who turned on the gas and raced clear from 60 metres out to dive over.
It was a tight final 20 minutes, with Carty nudging the hosts ahead with a penalty, before a decisive score concluded matters in Galway.
As Connacht surged forward, Carty spun a brilliant pass out to Butler on the wing, who bumped the last defender and crossed to secure the win.