It’s a big weekend for the Guinness PRO14 with both South African franchises hosting their first games in the competition. After Southern Kings host Leinster, the Cheetahs will then entertain Zebre at Toyota Stadium in a game which kicks off at 7.30pm.
What’s at stake? The Cheetahs were handed a tough start to their Guinness PRO14 existence, travelling to Ulster and then Munster, so they host Zebre still in search of a first victory. The Italian side were unfortunate to come away with nothing from their opening game in Swansea, but were second-best at home to Scarlets last week.
Team news (Toyota Cheetahs): The Cheetahs have made a host of changes to the side that lost to Munster, with Sergeal Petersen shifting to full-back to accommodate Luther Obi. Ernst Stapelberg gets the nod at fly-half, while Ox Nche, Torsten van Jaarsveld and Tom Botha form a new-look front row. Blitzbokke Sevens star Cecil Afrika is included on the bench.
Team news (Zebre): Zebre have made six changes to the team that went down to the Scarlets last time out, with Mattia Bellini back at outside centre. Marcello Violi comes in at scrum-half to partner Carlo Canna, while George Biagi returns in the second row.
Talking points: This will be the second game on South African soil this weekend but most interesting is that it will also be the first played at altitude. A regular advantage for South Africa at international level, it will be interesting to see how the Cheetahs make the most of it in the final 20 minutes of the game.
Key battle: Springbok Francois Venter is one of the standout performers for the Cheetahs and will be expected to lead from the front in the centres. He will face Mattia Bellini, usually employed in the back three but shifting to outside centre for this game. Bellini is undoubtedly talented, but it will be a big test to contain the dangerous Venter in midfield.
Key stat: Zebre’s last win on the road came in Edinburgh last year when they beat the Scottish side at BT Murrayfield in Round Seven.
Did you know? Tickets for the game are free to allow every supporter the chance to embark on this new adventure.
Toyota Cheetahs: S Petersen; L Obi, F Venter, W Small-Smith, M Mapimpi; E Stapelberg, S Venter; O Nche, T van Jaarsveld, T Botha; J Basson, R Hugo; P Schoeman, H Venter, J Pokomela.
Replacements: J du Toit, C Marais, J Coetzee, R Bernardo, C Dry, T Meyer, N Lee, C Afrika.
Zebre: C Gaffney; G Bisegni, M Bellini, T Castello, G di Giulio; C Canna, M Violi; A Lovotti, O Fabiani, D Chistolini; D Sisi, G Biagi; J Meyer, G Licata, R Giammarioli.
Replacements: S Panico, A De Marchi, R Tenga, L Krumov, D Minnie, G Palazzani, S Bordoli, F Amasaga.
TV: SuperSport1 (KO 7.15pm)
Match officials – Referee: Andrew Brace (IRFU) Assistant Referee 1: Sean Gallagher (IRFU) AR2: J Peyper (SARU) TMO: S Veldsman (SARU)
Guinness PRO14 Final 2018 Ticket Information: Fans can save up to 20% on selected tickets, and prices start at just €30 for adults and €5 for children, and be booked via www.ticketmaster.ie
The Cheetahs scored eight tries as they secured their first win of the Guinness PRO14 campaign with a fiery 54-39 victory over Zebre, who had to settle for a losing bonus point in a thrilling encounter at the Toyota Stadium.
In the second ever PRO14 encounter hosted on Southern Hemisphere territory, it was Zebre who showcased more attacking prowess from the off as the travelling Italians raced into an 11-0 lead.
But the Cheetahs powered back through successive tries from Makazole Mapimpi, Luther Obi and William Small-Smith to ignite a blistering first-half.
The Springbok outfit turned on the heat after the break as Torsten Van Jaarsveld and Mapimpi completed doubles.
Zebre’s ill-discipline saw Dave Sisi and George Biagi sinbinned, as their frustration fuelled the Cheetah’s dominance.
It looked like Naka Drotské’s side were destined for another defeat when Biagi crossed for Zebre’s first try on South African soil following efficient support play from the forward pods.
But the Cheetahs responded almost immediately after Mapimpi stormed down the wing to cross at the other end.
Mapimi’s magic sparked the one-sided game into action, as Canna failed to make it three penalties from three.
And the hosts capitalised with the extra man, as Small-Smith ran a perfect infield line with eyes only for the try line after a perfectly time offload from François Venter.
Ernst Stapelberg edged the hosts in front with the conversion, before Obi plucked Sean Venter’s floating pass to run in for Zebre’s third try and complete a memorable first-half resurgence.
The visitors remained in touching distance as Johan Meyer charged over at the other end to pull a try back with 14 men, as Michael Bradley’s side trailed by a point at the break.
But the momentum remained with the Springbok outfit after the restart, as Mapimpi latched onto Sergeal Petersen’s grubber to grab the Cheetah’s fourth.
And a fifth ensued after a solid driving maul from the hosts saw Torsten Van Jaarsveld power through Zebre’s rattled defensive line, with Stapelberg putting daylight between the two sides at 33-18.
But just as they had done in the first half, Zebre refused to relinquish with a man down and Mattia Bellini stormed over, with Marcelo Violi slotting his first points of the game at 33-25.
Van Jaarsveld crossed at the other end for the Cheetah’s sixth, before Faialaga Afamasaga reduced the deficit to six points after Violi converted.
Tian Meyer broke clear of Zebre’s defence to dive over, before Petersen joined in on the fun with his second and the Cheetah’s eighth.
Giulio Bisegni salvaged a fifth at the death for Zebre, with Guglielmo Palazzani converting, but it was not enough as the Italian side’s winless run in the new season continues.