The Toyota Cheetahs will be looking to take another step towards the Guinness Pro14 Final Series when they face the Dragons at Rodney Parade on Friday night.
It’s been almost three weeks since the Cheetahs edged a thrilling game against Connacht 26-25 in their last outing, with Niel Marais’ 79th-minute penalty snatching the win in Bloemfontein.
They will be the last visitors of the season to Newport, where they will face a Dragons side looking to put a 45-13 defeat at Southern Kings behind them.
What’s at stake?
With four rounds of the regular season to go, the Cheetahs lie third in Conference A, five points clear of Cardiff Blues, in what is their first-ever campaign in the Guinness Pro14.
Victory over the Dragons, who have only one twice this season, would put them in great heart for what will be a pivotal clash against the Blues at the Toyota Stadium in two weeks’ time.
The Dragons want to restore some pride after becoming the first team to lose to the Kings this season, which reduced the gap at the bottom of Conference B between the two teams to eight points.
Team news (Dragons)
Dragons head coach Bernard Jackman is able to call upon Wales internationals Cory Hill, Elliot Dee and Hallam Amos for the game after the conclusion of the Six Nations.
There is a new centre pairing, as Connor Edwards and Sam Beard come in to replace Jack Dixon and Jarryd Sage, while Zane Kirchner lines up at full back against his fellow countrymen.
Aaron Wainwright and Lewis Evans come into the back row and tighthead prop Lloyd Fairbrother lines up in the front row alongside Sam Hobbs and Dee.
Team news (Cheetahs)
For their first-ever match against the Dragons, Cheetahs coach Rory Duncan has moved Marais to inside centre to compensate for an injury to Nico Lee, meaning Fred Zeilinga comes in at fly-half.
William Small-Smith returns to the side from injury on the right wing and replaces Craig Barry, who has been on loan from Super Rugby side the Stormers.
Rabz Maxwano starts on the other wing in place of the injured Luther Obi, while Oupa Mohoje comes in for Henco Venter at openside flanker.
Dragons head coach Bernard Jackman said: “We would like to think that there are areas in our game that we can challenge the Cheetahs.
“We have been watching them since Round 1 in the PRO14 so we know what they are about and we know that they have some very good players – we are well aware of their strengths.
“It’s an important game in particular given the fact how we have played against Edinburgh and the Kings so we need to show some character.”
Key battle – Zane Kirchner v Clayton Blommetjies
Both players will be looking to get their team on the front foot from full back, with the Cheetahs knowing all about Kirchner, a former South Africa international with 31 caps.
Nobody made more carries in Round 17 than the 19 from Blommetjies against Connacht and the Dragons will have to stop the 27-year-old from turning defence into attack.
But the hosts will have am enduring class act in the No.15 jersey that can cause just as many problems from deep.
Key stat: The Cheetahs have only won once outside of South Africa this season.
Did you know? The Dragons haven’t won in the Guinness Pro14 since defeating Southern Kings at Rodney Parade in Round 5.
Dragons: Zane Kirchner, Ashton Hewitt, Sam Beard, Connor Edwards, Hallam Amos, Arwel Robson, Sarel Pretorius; Sam Hobbs, Elliot Dee, Lloyd Fairbrother, Joe Davies, Cory Hill, Harrison Keddie, Aaron Wainwright, Lewis Evans.
Replacements: Ellis Shipp, Gerard Ellis, Dan Suter, Max Williams, Taine Basham, Dan Babos, Adam Warren, Jared Rosser.
Toyota Cheetahs: Clayton Blommetjies, William Small-Smith, Francois Ventre, Niel Marais, Sibhale Maxano, Fred Zeilinga, Tian Meyer, Ox Nche, Torsten van Jaarsveld, Johan Coetzee, Justin Basson, Reniel Hugo, Paul Schoeman, Oupa Mohoje, Uzair Cassiem
Replacements: Jacques du Toit, Charles Marais, Tom Botha, Carl Wegner, Henco Venter, Zee Mkhabela, Clinton Swart, AJ Coertzen
TV: Live on BBC2 Wales and Supersport 1
Toyota Cheetahs maintained their push for a place in the Guinness PRO14 Final Series with a 29-17 win over the Dragons – just their second win outside of South Africa this season.
Two second-half tries from Sibahle Maxwane with Fred Zeilinga and Clayton Blommetjies also diving over secured the bonus points as the Cheetahs came from 10-3 down at half-time.
Ashton Hewitt had given the Dragons an early lead with Elliot Dee offering them hope midway through the second but they remain without a league win since Round 5.
The Dragons thought they had a score in the opening minutes when Sarel Pretorious darted over but the TMO penalised Lloyd Fairbrother for side-entry at the ruck.
The hosts weren’t denied for long as, from first phase ball at a scrum, Hallam Amos found space out wide before offloading to Hewitt for an easy score.
Niel Marais reduced the deficit from the kicking tee but Robsen replied with a drop goal and the home side led 10-3 at the break.
The Cheetahs wasted no time at the start of the second half though as Blommetjies burst through a whole after collecting a Dragons clearance and putting Maxwane in the clear.
That try came just 23 seconds into the second half and minutes later, fly-half Zeilinga stepped and burst through to dive beneath the posts and give the Cheetahs a 17-10 lead.
Maxwane’s pace saw him over again on 62 minutes as Marais hacked a loose ball up field and the winger’s speed saw him reach the ball first, control the ball and dot down.
Dee gave the home fans some hope when he released the ball at a ruck before picking up and diving over to reduce the deficit on 71 minutes.
But the Cheetahs, third in Conference A, had their bonus point try when man of the match Blommetjies rounded two front row forwards and sped clear for a fine individual score.
Guinness PRO14 Final 2018 Ticket Information: Fans can save up to 20% on selected tickets, and prices start from just €35 for adults and €10 for children, and can be booked via www.ticketmaster.ie