Isuzu Southern Kings welcome Connacht to South Africa in Round 9 as the Guinness PRO14 returns after a break.
Connacht, who sit 5th in Conference A, will be looking to close the gap on the likes of Cardiff Blues and Ospreys, whilst their South African opposition are looking for a win in Conference B after losing their last four fixtures.
What’s at stake?
Their league position may suggest otherwise, but the Kings will come into the match confident after only narrowly losing 31-38 to defending champions Leinster three weeks ago in their last outing.
Meanwhile, the Irish side have struggled on the road so far this season, only winning one of their three away Guinness PRO14 fixtures.
But a win could see them overtake Cardiff Blues and Ospreys as well as pull away from Zebre and Toyota Cheetahs.
Team news (Southern Kings): Berton Klaasen replaces Tertius Kruger in the starting XV as he once again pairs up with Harlon Klaasen for the centre combination.
Prop duo Lupumlo Mguca and Nicolaas Oosthuizen replace the injured Schalk Ferreira (fractured cheek) and Justin Forwood (ankle injury), whilst Jurie van Vuuren will make his first appearance of the season on the blindside.
Alulutho Tshakweni, the most recent Isuzu Southern Kings recruit, could make his Guinness PRO14 debut as he provides frontrow cover from the bench.
Luvuyo Pupuma, who missed the Leinster match due to a shoulder injury, is back in the matchday 23 on the bench.
Team news (Connacht): Connacht’s record try-scorer Matt Healy is back to take his place on the wing after recovering from his injury.
He returns to a back three that includes Cian Kelleher on the opposite wing and Tiernan O’Halloran at full-back.
With Bundee Aki unavailable through his involvement in the November internationals, Kyle Godwin and Tom Farrell form the midfield.
Loosehead Denis Buckley, tighthead Conor Carey and hooker Shane Delahunt make up the front row trio.
The back row includes Sean O’Brien and Coly Fainga’a at blindside and openside respectively, while captain Jarrad Butler starts at number 8.
Southern Kings head coach Deon Davids said: “We have made a few changes to our team this week which will see Berton Klaasen returning at centre in line with our continued rotation system.”
“Despite our injury problems in our front row, we are excited to give Lupumlo Mguca and NJ Oosthuizen their first starts of the season. The two did exceptionally well for us in the previous match against Leinster when they came onto the field.
“We expect a tough encounter with Connacht – a side that has done well this season to win a few matches which include the scalps of top sides like Scarlets and Ulster.”
Connacht head coach Andy Friend said: “Matt Healy has returned after missing a couple of games and he is fully fit and ready to start on the wing. The other good news on the injury front is the return of Gavin Thornbury who had a more long-term injury but is back now and reading to go also. We will start Gavin on the bench but no doubt he will feature during the 80 minutes”
“The Kings have been really impressive this season especially when they are at home in Port Elizabeth. They put 31 points on Leinster and 34 points on Scarlets and were unlucky to lose both games.”
“They put 38 points on Glasgow and won that game so their form against three of the top teams in the Guinness PRO14 has been impressive and we know how dangerous they can be. If they get space out wide, they will punish any team and we will need a big performance to overcome them”.
Key battle: Yaw Penxe v Matt Healy
The Isuzu Southern Kings will have to be on their guard with Connacht’s record try scorer Matt Healy returning to the side.
Starting on the wing, the former scrum-half could play a key hand in his side’s fate in the contest.
However, he will face a tough task up against his opposite number Yaw Penxe, always a threat out wide.
Key stat: Only six teams in the Guinness PRO14 have scored more tries than the Southern Kings so far this season.
Did you know? Connacht’s Matt Healy became the club’s record try scorer in March with his display against another South African side – the Toyota Cheetahs – in Bloemfontein, taking him to 44 tries from 104 appearances.
Southern Kings: Masixole Banda, Michael Makase, Harlon Klaasen, Berton Klaasen, Yaw Penxe, Martin Du Toit, Stefan Ungerer, Lupumlo Mguca, Alandre Van Rooyen, Nicolaas Oosthuizen, Stephan Greeff, John-Charles Astle, Cyril-John Velleman, Jurie Van Vuuren, Ruaan Lerm.
Replacements: Tango Balekile, Alulutho Tshakweni, Luvuyo Pupuma, Andries Van Schalkwyk, Martinus Burger, Godlen Masimla, Ntabeni Dukisa, Tertius Kruger
Connacht: Tiernan O’Halloran, Cian Kelleher, Kyle Godwin, Tom Farrell, Matt Healy, Jack Carty, Caolin Blade, Denis Buckley, Shane Delahunt, Conor Carey, Ultan Dilane, James Cannon, Sean O’Brien, Colby Fainga’a, Jarrad Butler (C)
Replacements: Tom McCartney, Peter McCabe, Dominic Robertson McCoy, Gavin Thornbury, Paul Boyle, James Mitchell, David Horowitz, Darragh Leader
TV: Kick off at 1.00pm, live on Premier Sports 1 and eir sport 2
Referee: George Clancy
Assistant Referees: Paul Mente and Ruhan Miering
TMO: Sean Veldsman
Jack Carty guided Connacht Rugby to a second consecutive Guinness PRO14 victory as they overpowered Isuzu Southern Kings at the Madibaz Stadium.
The fly-half scored seven points and set up the first try for Cian Kelleher, before Matt Healy’s score and a penalty try gave them a confident lead.
Kings fought back with two well-worked tries, the first through Masixole Banda and the second Ntabeni Dukisa, but youngster Paul Boyle secured the victory with a powerful second-half score.
Carty opened the scoring for Connacht with a penalty against a strong wind in Port Elizabeth.
The visitors increased their lead after Carty put an inch-perfect kick into the corner for Kelleher to catch unopposed and touch down, with the fly-half bending the conversion over.
Kings gathered themselves though and responded through Banda, who danced through the defence from 15 metres out to dot down.
But the hosts went down to 14 men when prop Lupumlo Mguca repeatedly pulled down the scrum, and Connacht took immediate advantage of the dominance in the push to earn a penalty try.
It only got worse for Kings as Connacht span the ball beautifully from one touchline to the other to put Healy in for their third try on the stroke of half time, with Carty again adding the extras to make it 7-24 at the break.
Mguca made amends when he came back on the pitch, bursting through Connacht’s 22 with a storming run.
The ball was recycled to Dries van Schalkwyk, who broke through and popped to Dukisa for an easy run-in.
Banda converted to reduce the gap to 10 points with 25 minutes to play, as Kings started gathering real momentum.
Coming off the bench 21-year-old Boyle made an instant impact, taking a crash ball and holding off four defenders to muscle his way over for Connacht’s bonus-point try.
David Horwitz converted to put the visitors back in the driving seat with a 31-14 lead, which they retained to the final whistle.