In-form Edinburgh head to South Africa looking to extend their winning run and improve their Guinness PRO14 Finals Series chances away to the Isuzu Southern Kings on Saturday.
The Kings will welcome the Scots to Madibaz Stadium (kick-off 5.15pm) fresh from last week’s narrow defeat to the Toyota Cheetahs and looking to get their first win of 2019.
What’s at stake? The battle for a top three spot in Conference B looks set to go down to the wire, with Edinburgh’s run of seven successive wins in all competitions helping them get right back in the hunt.
Currently second, but just two points clear of fifth-placed Ulster, every point will count and Edinburgh will be desperate to open a gap to the chasing pack.
The Kings, meanwhile, conceded defeat with the final play against the Cheetahs last week and are still searching for their second win of the campaign.
Team News (Isuzu Southern Kings): There are doubts over loosehead prop Schalk Ferreira, who has been struggling with injury this week. As a result Alulutho Tshakweni is ready and waiting to step into the starting line-up. Elsewhere the Kings are without centre Berton Klaasen, replaced by namesake Harlon, while Andisa Ntsila and Andries van Schalkwyk come into the pack.
Team news (Edinburgh): Richard Cockerill has made nine changes to the team which beat Montpellier to qualify for the quarter-finals in Europe, and welcomes back three players from Scotland training camp. David Cherry, Chris Dean and Luke Crosbie all come straight into the starting line-up for the Scots. They will also be able to call on the likes of Jaco van der Walt, Henry Pyrgos and of course Viliame Mata in Port Elizabeth.
Isuzu Southern Kings head coach Deon Davids: “We have had a good week of preparations.
“But it has not been without its hiccups as we unfortunately lost Berton Klaasen with an eye injury. We are also keeping a close eye on Schalk Ferreira with his minor back issue. We will make a late call on his participation in the match.”
Edinburgh head coach Richard Cockerill said: “We’ve had a tough and intense week of training in Port Elizabeth and the boys are looking forward to going up against a combative Southern Kings side.
“The players should take credit for our good run of form, but we’ve got to back it up at the Madibaz Stadium tomorrow evening.
“We certainly won’t take our opponents lightly. We will need to be at the top of our game, both mentally and physically, if we are to secure all points on offer come full-time.”
Key battle: Andisa Ntsila v Viliame Mata
A battle of contrasting No.8s is in store when Andisa Ntsila and Viliame Mata pack down on Saturday. Ntsila, who is just as comfortable playing on the flank, is a tackling machine who will keeping going for the whole 80 minutes. Mata will be similarly influential, but it is generally when Edinburgh have the ball that he makes the biggest impact. Beyond the spectacular offloads, the sheer amount of carrying the Fijian does is worth highlighting. He leads the league with 168, more than 20 more than the next best, despite playing only nine of 13 matches so far.
Key stat: Although Edinburgh have won seven in a row in all competitions, their last away win in the Guinness PRO14 outside Scotland came in March 2018, away to Connacht.
Did you know? The Isuzu Southern Kings’ sole win this season came at home to Scottish opposition. They saw off Glasgow Warriors 38-28 at Madibaz Stadium in September.
Isuzu Southern Kings: Masixole Banda, Yaw Penxe, Harlon Klaasen, Tertius Kruger, Bjorn Basson, Ntabeni Dukisa, Stefan Ungerer; Schalk Ferreira / Alulutho Tshakweni, Michael Willemse, Luvuyo Pupuma, Andries van Schalkwyk, John-Charles Astle (c), CJ Velleman, Tienie Burger, Andisa Ntsila
Replacements: Alandre van Rooyen, Lupumlo Mguca, Alulutho Tshakweni/ Nicolaas Oosthuizen, Stephan Greeff, Henry Brown, Sarel Pretorius, Bader Pretorius, Meli Rokoua
Edinburgh: Dougie Fife; Tom Brown, George Taylor, Chris Dean, James Johnstone; Jaco van der Walt, Henry Pyrgos; Pierre Schoeman, David Cherry, Pietro Ceccarelli; Fraser McKenzie (c), Callum Hunter-Hill; Luke Crosbie, Ally Miller, Viliame Mata
Replacements: Ross Ford, Darryl Marfo, Murray McCallum, Jamie Hodgson, Mungo Mason, Nathan Fowles, Simon Hickey, Juan Pablo Socino
TV: Madibaz Stadium, KO 17.15. Super Sport, Premier Sports 2
Referee: Dan Jones
Assistant Referees: Stuart Berry, Ruhan Meiring
TMO: Sean Veldsman
Yaw Penxe’s scorching late try sealed a stunning victory for the Isuzu Southern Kings as they came from behind to beat Edinburgh Rugby in South Africa.
The Kings started brilliantly through Bjorn Basson’s individual effort but Edinburgh soon fired back through centre Chris Dean.
The Scots dominated the middle portion of the match and went ahead with a second-half penalty try, followed up with a score for hooker Ross Ford.
But the Kings had other ideas, and, trailing by eight with five minutes to play, the South Africans struck back through Bader-Werner Pretorius and Penxe’s try-of-the-season contender to snatch victory.
The home side started like a train and got the first try in the opening minutes as Basson executed a wonderful bit of skill down the left flank.
Attacking from just inside the Edinburgh half Basson took a pass out wide, chipped in-field to beat the defence and then touched down for an excellent score.
Masixole Banda kicked the extras but Edinburgh would fire back almost immediately, going through phase after phase in the opposition 22 before a delightful inside pass found centre Dean to do the rest.
Van der Walt kicked the conversion, followed by a penalty at the other end, with Edinburgh enjoying most of the possession for the rest of the half only for Banda to kick three more points before the break.
The Kings led 13-7 at the interval but Edinburgh continued to press in the second half, almost getting over from short range through Pietro Ceccarelli only for a knock-on to be given.
The Kings defence held out impressively but was dealt a blow on the hour as blindside CJ Velleman saw yellow and Edinburgh were awarded a penalty.
The South African side had made 180 tackles at this stage as the Scots opted for a scrum, eventually being rewarded with a penalty try to put them 14-13 ahead.
Edinburgh’s dominance continued and they used forward power for their third try, driving off a lineout until Ford was able to snipe over the line from short distance.
The Kings though weren’t done there and attacked in the final ten minutes, with replacement Pretorius powering over with just four minutes on the clock.
Heading into the final minutes the try of the game was still to come, with the Kings receiving the restart and immediately passing wide to another substitute – Meli Rokoua.
Rokoua stepped inside to beat the defence and flew to the halfway line before offloading out the back of his hand to Penxe, who stepped up the pace a notch further and blasted in to the tryline for a famous win.