After a terrific round of European action that saw Cardiff Blues reach the semi-finals of the European Rugby Challenge Cup with a win at Edinburgh Rugby, the Guinness PRO14 returns this weekend with another mouth-watering clash.
Danny Wilson’s Blues are in fantastic form at present but the Cheetahs are very rarely beaten in Bloemfontein, meaning this one promises to be a cracker.
What’s at stake? There are just five points separating these two sides in Conference A, with the Cheetahs in third on 52 points and the Blues in fourth on 47. The Guinness PRO14 Final Series is fast approaching and a win would go a long way to securing the Cheetahs a place in them, but who would bet against the Blues in such superb form?
Team news (Toyota Cheetahs): Clinton Swart will be wearing the No.12 jersey. Niel Marais moves to fly-half, with Fred Zeilinga providing cover on the bench. Carl Wegner will be running onto the field in his 50th match for the Cheetahs. He will be replacing the injured Justin Basson. Rynier Bernardo will be providing cover on the bench.
Team news (Cardiff Blues): Gareth Anscombe replaces Jarrod Evans at outside half for the Toyota Stadium clash and he has previous experience of playing at the Bloemfontein venue following his time in Super Rugby with the Chiefs. The 26-year-old is part of a new-look half-back partnership, with Lloyd Williams introduced to the starting XV as one of 11 changes from last week’s Challenge Cup quarter-final win over Edinburgh. Elsewhere, in the backs, Matthew Morgan and Garyn Smith, who were unused replacements at BT Murrayfield last week, are recalled, while Alex Cuthbert returns from injury to take his place on the wing.
Cheetahs coach Rory Duncan said: “The players understand the importance of this game and have prepared as best possible. Cardiff Blues are a decent outfit and we are in for a tough battle.”
Meanwhile, Blues boss Danny Wilson commented: “We’ll keep taking it game-by-game because I don’t think you can plan much further ahead than that.
“But you certainly have to keep one eye on the fact that there is a semi-final around the corner after two games in South Africa. You have to manage your squad for that type of challenge.
“You have to find the balance, with the headache – albeit a nice headache – of thinking about the semi-final as well.”
Key battle – Clayton Blommetjies v Matthew Morgan
The full-back battle could be crucial in this clash of two in-form teams, with both men excellent playmakers for their sides. In Round 18, Blommetjies made 15 carries, beat six defenders, claimed 173 metres and made two clean breaks. On the other side of the coin, Morgan also made 15 carries but beat eight defenders and claimed 82 metres – both men will be targeted by the opposition defence.
Key stat: Cheetahs’ only defeat in Bloemfontein this campaign was 29-26 to Glasgow on October 6.
Did you know? Toyota Cheetahs have won their last two Guinness PRO14 matches at home to Connacht and away at Dragons.
Toyota Cheetahs: Clayton Blommetjies, William Small-Smith, Francois Venter (C), Clinton Swart, Sibhale Maxane, Niel Marais, Tian Meyer, Ox Nche, Torsten van Jaarsveld, Johan Coetzee, Carl Wegner, Reniel Hugo, Paul Schoeman, Oupa Mohoje, Uzair Cassiem
Replacements: Jacques du Toit, Erich de Jager, Tom Botha, Rynier Bernardo, Henco Venter, Zee Mkhabela, Fred Zeilinga, AJ Coertzen
Cardiff Blues: Matthew Morgan, Alex Cuthbert, Garyn Smith, Willis Halaholo, Owen Lane; Gareth Anscombe (capt), Lloyd Williams, Rhys Gill, Kirby Myhill, Anton Peikrishvili, Seb Davies, Damian Welch, Macauley Cook, Olly Robinson, Josh Navidi
Replacements: Ethan Lewis, Brad Thyer, Dillon Lewis, Josh Turnbull, Ellis Jenkins, Tomos Williams, Steven Shingler, Rey Lee-Lo
Referee: Mike Adamson (SRU, 20th competition game)
AR1: Sean Gallagher (IRFU)
AR2: Ben Crouse (SARU)
TMO: Johan Greeff (SARU)
TV: Live on SuperSport and S4C
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
A late penalty try for the Toyota Cheetahs helped the South African side to a bonus-point win over Cardiff Blues in a thrilling Bloemfontein encounter.
The Cheetahs were excellent in the first half, racing into the lead thanks to two tries from Sibhale Maxwane and one for Francois Venter, outdoing two penalties in return from Gareth Anscombe.
The Blues fires up in the second half though and led 27-22 at the 80-minute mark thanks to scores for Owen Lane, Willis Halaholo and Rey Lee-Lo.
The penalty try came eight minutes into time added on, and means the Cheetahs boost their Guinness PRO14 Final Series chances and move nine points clear of the Blues.
The Welsh region got the first score of the afternoon on three minutes when Anscombe got the first of his two penalties.
Niel Marais levelled things up minutes later and the Cheetahs went ahead as Maxwane finished off a move out wide, holding on to Clayton Blommetjies’ pass.
Anscombe reduced the deficit but Venter extended the lead as he finished off a break made by Tian Meyer down the right.
Lane saw yellow towards the end of the half and the South African outfit made sure they capitalised as Maxwane made use of the extra man for a simple run in to the line.
At half-time the score was 22-6 but soon after the restart Lane re-entered the fray in fine style, capping off a period of pressure and good work from Matthew Morgan and Josh Navidi.
Steve Shingler converted and after a disallowed Venter try the Blues came once again, with Halaholo striking just before the hour-mark with superb footwork to beat three defenders.
Shingler once again added the conversion to cut the deficit to 22-20 and after a steal by Ellis Jenkins on the halfway line, Morgan, Alex Cuthbert and Halaholo all combined before Lee-Lo put the finishing touches on the Blues’ third try.
With the Welsh side leading 27-22 going into the final stages the heavens opened as both sides wrestled for advantage, with Blommetjies eating up vital metres for the home side.
The Bloemfontein side kicked for the corner and in the resulting defence Cuthbert received a yellow before more scrums piled the pressure on Danny Wilson’s men.
The drama was ratcheted up as a TMO call denied the Cheetahs a try – Brad Thyer also then received his marching orders to the sin-bin and with 88 minutes on the clock the penalty try was awarded after another powerful scrum from the hosts.
Guinness PRO14 Final 2018 Ticket Information: Prices start at just €35 at www.ticketmaster.ie with tickets available to suit every experience.
To book hospitality visit: https://www.pro14rugby.org/hospitality
For Travel packages visit: https://www.pro14rugby.org/travel-packages
For Fanzone & Dublin 7s visit: http://www.dublin7sfestival.ie