The Toyota Cheetahs and Isuzu Southern Kings will look to bounce back strongly from their disappointing Guinness PRO14 tours when they host Welsh sides, Ospreys and the Dragons, respectively this weekend in the third-last pool round.
With only two matches remaining after this round and the sides seeing out the season in South Africa, they will be highly motivated to finish the competition on a memorable note.
Ospreys’ Guinness PRO14 fate in Toyota Cheetahs hands
The Toyota Cheetahs can expect a fierce challenge from Ospreys, who are fighting for survival in the Conference A playoff race, when they meet in Bloemfontein on Saturday.
The visitors are in a similar situation to that which the Free Staters faced two weeks ago, as they need to win all of their remaining matches with bonus points to keep alive their slim hopes of progressing beyond the pool stages.
The Toyota Cheetahs will enter their match against Ospreys with one goal in mind when the teams take to the field at the Toyota Stadium on Saturday, and that will be to return to winning ways at home.
With the Welshmen under immense pressure to win to keep alive their slender hopes of sneaking into the playoffs, the hosts will be wary of the fact that they hold Ospreys’ fate in their hands. As things stand, the visitors need to win all three of their remaining pool matches, while hoping that Connacht and the Cardiff Blues slip up to stay in the race.
The teams have met three times before, with the Free Staters winning the clash in Bloemfontein in 2017, while Ospreys’ won the last two outings on their home patch. One of these victories, however, was by a single point, which will serve as extra inspiration for the home side.
The last time the Toyota Cheetahs registered a victory was in Bloemfontein on 2 February – which marked back-to-back home wins for them – and this will be a big talking point among Franco Smiths’ charges as they look to take advantage of a home stretch featuring three home games.
The Free Staters will enter the match with a superior attack after scoring 64 tries to Ospreys’ 40 this season, which will give them confidence, but they will need to support this with a tenacious defensive effort, as the visitors have conceded close to two tries fewer per match on average this season.
Speedster Rabz Maxwane, with an impressive 13 tries to his name, is currently still the top try-scorer in the competition with a five-try buffer over his closest rivals – a record he would undoubtedly like to extend as the pool rounds reach a conclusion.
Tian Schoeman, meanwhile, who is currently in fifth place on the list of the top points’ scorers with 96 points, will have his sights set on hitting triple digits this weekend.
Date: Saturday, 6 April
SA time: 17h30
Venue: Toyota Stadium, Bloemfontein
Referee: John Lacey (IRFU)
Assistant referees: Sean Gallagher (IRFU) Ben Crouse (SA Rugby)
TMO: Johan Greeff (SA Rugby)
Can the Isuzu Southern Kings tame the Dragons?
The Isuzu Southern Kings, with Dries van Schalkwyk and Berton Klaasen in line to reach special milestones this weekend, will be determined to remain above the Dragons on the Conference B log, as they hunt their third victory of the season when the sides cross paths in Port Elizabeth on Sunday.
The clash between the men from the Eastern Cape and their Welsh opponents takes place at the Nelson Mandela University on Sunday. If selected, it will be Van Schalkwyk’s 100th Guinness PRO14 appearance – he has 76 matches for Zebre and 23 for the Kings thus far – while Klaasen, with 34 Guinness PRO14 and 15 Vodacom Super Rugby games, could raise his bat for a half century for the Isuzu Southern Kings.
The 34-year-old Van Schalkwyk played provincial rugby in South Africa for seven unions – Free State, the Valke, Boland, the Blue Bulls, Golden Lions, Leopards and Eastern Province – before moving to Italy, where he also made his international debut and played in 15 Tests for the Azzurri, before returning to South Africa last year.
Deon Davids’ charges hold a narrow one-point lead above the Dragons, but with the home side determined to please their fans in their penultimate home game, and the Dragons looking to earn their first away win this season, both teams will give everything.
The last time the sides met in Port Elizabeth, the hosts registered a comprehensive 45-13 victory, but the situation was vastly different at the Rodney Parade last September where the Isuzu Southern Kings went down 27-22 in a close encounter.
The hosts will look to build on their encouraging attacking track record this season, which has seen them score 17 more tries than the Dragons, but their defence will have to be equally effective to tame the Dragons, who have earned two more victories.
Date: Sunday, 7 April
SA time: 15h00
Venue: Madibaz Stadium, Nelson Mandela University, Port Elizabeth
Referee: Frank Murphy (IRFU)
Assistant referees: Andrew Brace (IRFU), Paul Mente (SARU)
TMO: Shaun Veldsman (SARU)
Other Round 19 matches (SA kick-off times):
Friday, 5 April:
20h35: Glasgow Warriors v Ulster – Scotstoun Stadium, Glasgow
20h35: Munster v Cardiff Blues – Irish Independent Park, Cork
Saturday, 6 April:
18h30: Zebre v Connacht – Stadio Lanfranchi, Parma
19h45: Scarlets v Edinburgh – Parc y Scarlets, Llanelli
20h45: Leinster v Benetton – RDS Arena, Dublin