The Guinness PRO14 makes its return after a brief hiatus as winless Toyota Cheetahs welcome a Cardiff Blues side fresh from European action on Saturday evening in Bloemfontein.
It proved to be a mixed two rounds of European Champions Cup action for the Blues as they overcame Lyon 30-21 before slipping to defeat at home to Glasgow Warriors last time out in Pool Three.
Cheetahs will hope that the three-week break between fixtures will kick-start their campaign in Conference A with the South African side rooted to the foot of the group.
What’s at stake? The Blues know that a third consecutive victory could lift them above rivals Ospreys and into second place.
For their South African counterparts, however, it has been a tough season to date after losing five of their first six league games and only a bonus-point win will give them a chance of moving off the bottom.
Only a thrilling 39-39 draw with Ulster last month provided any respite from a series of fixtures that included a 24-21 defeat in the Welsh capital on September 28, so revenge might be the order of the day.
Team news (Toyota Cheetahs): Coach Franco Smith makes six changes, headlined by the return of Shaun Venter who captains the side from scrum-half.
Malcolm Jaer is included at full-back and Rhyno Smith makes his Pro14 bow on the wing, while in the pack there are inclusions for hooker Joseph Dweba, Walt Steenkamp at lock and Gerhard Olivier at blindside flanker.
If introduced from the bench, Reinach Venter and Sintu Manjezi will also make their debuts in the competition.
Team news (Cardiff Blues): No fewer than nine alterations have been made as the Blues look to keep tabs on Cheetahs’ expansive attacking threat.
It’s all change in the front row as Brad Thyer, Ethan Lewis and Scott Andrews are drafted in, while Rory Thornton plays at lock and Seb Davies returns at number eight.
At fly-half, Steve Shingler makes his first appearance of the campaign where he will partner Lloyd Williams at scrum-half.
Elsewhere, Garyn Smith slots in at outside centre and Matthew Morgan will play at full-back.
Talking points: Cardiff Blues head coach John Mulvihill said: “This is a crucial game for us and the Cheetahs have been waiting for this with three weeks without games to prepare.
“They play a very fast game and will attack from anywhere but they are also well-organised so we will have to be on our game.
“We’ve gone for a fast, running team to cope with the Cheetahs threats and the impact of playing at altitude at Bloemfontein, with a strong bench to come on.
“If we can get something out of this, and next week against Zebre at the Arms Park, we can start moving up the table.”
Key battle: Tian Schoeman v Steve Shingler
Each of the last three encounters between these sides have been decided by five points or less so kicking as ever will be vital.
Shingler will be eager to hit the ground running as he makes his 2018-19 bow while any up-tempo side needs to be governed by the play of the half-backs so watch Tian Schoeman at 10 for the Cheetahs.
Key stat: The Blues have won their last two away games in all competitions but have not won three in succession on the road in the same season since 2014/15.
Did you know? Cheetahs have lost their last three encounters against Welsh sides but have won all three matches against Welsh opponents in Bloemfontein.
Toyota Cheetahs: Malcolm Jaer, Rhyno Smith, Benhard Janse van Rensburg, William Small-Smith, Sibahle Maxwane, Tian Schoeman, Shaun Venter (c); Ox Nche, Joseph Dweba, Johannes Coetzee, Walt Steenkamp, JP du Preez, Gerhard Olivier, Junior Pokamela, Neil Jordaan
Replacements: Reinach Venter, Charles Marais, Erich de Jager, Sinthu Manjezi, Abongile Nonkontwana, Tian Meyer, Louis Fouche, Nico Lee
Cardiff Blues: Matthew Morgan; Jason Harries, Garyn Smith, Rey Lee-Lo, Aled Summerhill; Steve Shingler, Lloyd Williams (c); Brad Thyer, Ethan Lewis, Scott Andrews, George Earle, Rory Thornton, Josh Turnbull, Olly Robinson, Seb Davies
Replacements: Liam Belcher, Rhys Gill, Keiron Assiratti, Samu Manoa, Nick Williams, Lewis Jones, Dan Fish, Willis Halaholo
TV: Live on SuperSport 1, Premier Sports and S4C
Referee: Lloyd Linton (SRU, 24th competition game)
Assistant Referees: Quinton Immelman (SARU), Ruhan Meiring (SARU)
Citing Commissioner: TBC
TMO: Johan Greeff (SARU)
Toyota Cheetahs claimed their first Guinness PRO14 win of the season after a brace from Rabz Maxwane helped his side overcome Cardiff Blues 21-10 in Bloemfontein.
The hosts went into the game as the only winless team in the competition but raced into a 21-3 lead at half-time thanks to a Maxwane double and another try from Shaun Venter.
Cardiff only had a penalty from Steve Shingler to show for their first-half efforts and despite closing the gap after the break with a Samu Manoa try with 15 minutes left, they were unable to complete the fightback.
John Mulvihill made nine changes to his side after the Blues went down to Glasgow Warriors in the Champions Cup last time out, while Cheetahs made six changes for the visit of the Welsh outfit.
And Cheetahs were rampant from the off before they eventually made their pressure pay on seven minutes after Blues gifted them possession from their own lineout.
Scrum-half Venter spotted a hole in the Cardiff defence, picked the ball up from a ruck and raced 40 metres to open the scoring, with Tian Shoeman adding the extras.
It's a first win of the season for @CheetahsRugby ✅
— PRO14 RUGBY (@PRO14Official) October 27, 2018
The South African franchise had their second try just minutes later, with Maxwane collecting the ball in his own half before chipping it forward and winning the race to touchdown.
Another Schoeman conversion continued Cheetahs’ perfect start, which almost got even better when Malcolm Jaer was denied his side’s third try when his foot went into touch.
Cardiff had to wait until the 20th minute to get on the scoreboard, with Shingler adding three points from a penalty after the visitors enjoyed their first sustained spell of possession.
Olly Robinson came agonisingly close to claiming the first try for the Blues, following excellent work from Matthew Morgan and Jason Harries, but he was hauled down before the line.
They were left to rue that near-miss just before the break when the ball squirted out from a Blues scrum to Venter, who put Maxwane away for his second of the game as Cheetahs took a 21-3 lead into the interval.
Cheetahs celebrated what they thought was a bonus-point try on 50 minutes, but Jaer was denied again after he was adjudged to have been in an offside position in the build-up.
In response, Cardiff were living dangerously as they searched for a chink in Cheetahs’ armour – with Shingler attempting to run the ball out from his own line.
But just when it looked like it wasn’t going to be Cardiff’s day, Manoa charged down Schoeman and beat Maxwane to the ball to give his side a glimmer of hope, with Shingler adding the extras.
Cardiff continued to press for another score as the clock ticked down and came close to crossing the whitewash with a lineout drive that was well defended by the hosts.
However, nothing was going to deny Cheetahs their day and they held on to get off the mark in Conference A, closing the gap to Zebre to six points.