Match Page 2017-18 - Scoreboard WP ID: 132

Match Page 2017-18 - Last Time WP ID: 133

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Preview: Toyota Cheetahs v Connacht

Will Thompson 2 Mar 2018
Tiernan O'Halloran, Connacht Rugby

Not affected by the treacherous conditions in Europe, Cheetahs take on Connacht at the Toyota Stadium in sunny Bloemfontein in Round 17.

Having pushed Ospreys all the way last time out but conceding a try in the 78th minute, Cheetahs are looking for their first victory since January.

Whilst Connacht come off the back of a slender 22-19 away win against Benetton and will look to continue their momentum.

What’s at stake

Cheetahs have been victorious in exactly half of their games so far this season and lie third in Conference A on 43 points.

Only six points ahead of Cardiff Blues in fourth though, Cheetahs will be anxious to increase the gap and solidify a place in the Final Series.

With only four rounds left after this weekend, Connacht will be desperate to grab as many points as possible in the final stages.

They currently sit in fifth on 32 points.

Team news (Toyota Cheetahs)

Aranos Coetzee will be making his 50th appearance for Cheetahs, whilst Charles Marais and Tom Botha make the bench.

Luther Obi replaces the injured Malcolm Jaer and Rabs Mazwano will be providing cover on the bench.

Zee Mkhabela comes in for Shaun Venter, who has been sidelined due to an injury, but Tian Meyer returns to the bench after a spell out due to injury and will make his 50th appearance if he takes to the field.

Team news (Connacht)

Irish international lock Ultan Dillane returns to the Connacht starting team to face the Cheetahs, whilst the inclusion of centre Pita Ahki is the only other change to the side that beat Benetton Rugby in Treviso last weekend.

Ahki will form a centre partnership with Eoin Griffin, who scored a late try against the Italians to secure the triumph in the 74th minute.

Talking points:

Toyota Cheetahs head coach Rory Duncan said: “Our approach is to take each game as it comes.

“Obviously we prepare to win the game and a win will contribute to a play-off position.”

Connacht head coach Kieran Keane said: “I think everyone is familiar with their style of play.

“They play some really exciting and attacking rugby. They played like that when they came to the Sportsground and they were hard to beat.

“They are even harder to beat when they are playing at home and only one team has managed it since they joined the Guinness PRO14.

“It’s a massive challenge but one we are really relishing. We will be focusing on our game plan and what we can control and hopefully delivering a winning performance on Saturday.”

Key battle – Nico Lee vs Pita Ahki

Having scored a hat-trick of tries against Southern Kings in January, Nico Lee has seriously impressed at Cheetahs and earned himself a contract extension this week.

Connacht centre Pita Ahki, on the other hand, has only appeared three times since the turn of the year, with two of those from the bench, so will have a point to prove this weekend.

Key stat:

Cheetahs have lost just once at home this campaign: 26-29 to Glasgow in Round 6.

Did you know? Connacht’s victory in Treviso last weekend was their first on the road since they visited Edinburgh last April.

Toyota Cheetahs: Clayton Blommetjies, Craig Barry, Francois Venter (C), Nico Lee, Luther Obi, Niel Marais, Zee Mkhabela, Ox Nche, Torsten van Jaarsveld, Johan Coetzee, Justin Basson, Reniel Hugo, Paul Schoeman, Henco Venter, Uzair Cassiem.

Replacements: Jacques du Toit, Charles Marais, Tom Botha, Renier Bernardo, Oupa Mohoje, Tian Meyer, Fred Zeilinga, Sibhale Maxano.

Connacht: Tiernan O’Halloran, Cian Kelleher, Eoin Griffin, Pita Ahki, Matt Healy, Jack Carty, Caolin Blade, Denis Buckley, Tom McCartney, Finlay Bealham, Ultan Dillane, James Cannon, Sean O’Brien, Jarrad Butler, John Muldoon (C).

Replacements: Shane Delahunt, Denis Coulson, Dominic Robertson McCoy, Gavin Thornbury, Eoghan Masterson, James Mitchell, Craig Ronaldson, Niyi Adeolokun.

Referee: Stuart Berry (SARU, 10th competition game)

Assistant Referees: Ben Crouse, Jaco Kotze (SARU)

Citing Commissioner: Marius van Rensberg (SARU)

TMO: Johan Greeff (SARU)

TV: Live on SuperSport 1 and Sky Sports

Historical Lineup Pre Opta (sfms data) - Preview - v2

Match Page 2017-18 - Lineups WP: 135

Match Page 2017-18 - Match Data WP: 140

Match Page 2017-18 - Timeline WP:139

Marais snatches victory for Cheetahs with last minute penalty

Will Thompson 3 Mar 2018
Francois Venter, Toyota Cheetahs

Niel Marais showed great composure from the tee to slot a 79th minute penalty to seal a late win for Cheetahs over Connacht at the Toyota Stadium.

Two tries from winger Matt Healy and one from Eoin Griffin, combined with two penalties from the boot of Jack Carty, looked to have sealed Connacht’s second win on the road.

But their efforts were not enough to see off the South Africans, who scored early through Uzair Cassiem and again in the second half through Sibhale Maxwane, with Marais kicking fourteen points for the win.

With the triumph, Cheetahs have closed the gap on Munster in second place in Conference A to just six points, whereas Connacht missed the opportunity to chase down Cardiff Blues in fourth.

Cassiem opened the scoring for the Cheetahs after just three minutes, picking and going on the blindside of a ruck five metres out to trot in untouched.

Niel Marais converted the try then added three more points to give the hosts a 10 point lead within 10 minutes.

Connacht responded through Healy, who was put in down the left after some fluid hands, and Jack Carty added the extras.

After Marais slotted another penalty, Healy then got his second in the same corner after the ball was spun out to him, but Carty couldn’t convert to take the lead.

Marais knocked over yet another kick at goal after an explosive break from Craig Barry forced a penalty for Cheetahs, but Carty responded and converted an effort of his own just before half time.

The Irish fly-half then took the opportunity to take the lead for the first time after the break, slotting his penalty to go 16-18 up.

He then made a slicing break after waves of pressure on the Cheetahs defence and off-loaded to Griffin who ran in under the posts.

The hosts’ replied instantly with some great running, as Barry cut inside from his wing and passed to substitute Maxwane to cross the whitewash, with Marais adding the extras to close the gap to two points.

Connacht looked to have kept the Cheetahs out and were on track for just their second victory on the road, but the Cheetahs pushed on and were rewarded for their determination.

Clayton Blommetjies’ monstrous kick to touch from a penalty meant the hosts had a line-out five metres out and managed to win a late penalty when Connacht failed to release on the floor.

Marais stepped up as the clock ticked towards 80 minutes and calmly slotted the ball between the posts to seal a dramatic victory at the death.

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 can be booked via www.ticketmaster.ie

Match Page 2017-18 - Summary WP:137

Match Page 2017-18 - Match Data WP: 140

Match Page 2017-18 - Timeline WP:139

Match Page 2017-18 - Lineups WP: 135

Match Page 2017-18 - Performance WP:138