The Cheetahs and Kings will look to hit the ground running with two PRO14 matches that are of vital importance to both campaigns this weekend.
The Cheetahs will be looking to consolidate their two point lead over Glasgow Warriors and make up some ground on Ulster as they head into a clash in Parma with Zebre this weekend, while the Southern Kings head to in-form Edinburgh to test the progress they made in the three weeks off in December.
Both sides will be hoping to add a victory to their season before a string of home games that will determine their fates in the second half of a tough season.
The Cheetahs were fortunate to see Edinburgh’s win over Glasgow last weekend in the 1872 derby that kept them above the Scottish side in their conference, and now, with games in hand, they want to exploit that advantage before a string of home games where their expansive game will come to the fore.
First though, they need to negotiate the Italian side and will be looking to come away with only their second win overseas this season.
Coach Hawies Fourie believes the travel schedule may have been a setback, but their rolling maul and forwards are the key to winning the game.
‘Our travel to Parma wasn’t easy. We had to travel in two different groups with myself, the doctor and 14 players getting here a day earlier than the other players. It makes our preparation a bit difficult. It isn’t ideal but that is how it is,’ he said.
‘It will be vital, coming off a three week break that we execute well at the start of the game and that we don’t make mistakes. We need to shake off the rustiness very quickly.
‘We know that after two derby games against Treviso, they will be ready and look sharp for our arrival. The field is at least not as muddy as it was a few weeks ago when they played. It is soft underfoot but at least not as muddy and it doesn’t look like it will rain.
‘We need our forwards to dominate. We’ve seen that Zebre have let through a number of maul tries in the competition and conceded one again last week, so that is something we have concentrated hard on in our preparation for this game. The mauls will be important, and they also maul well, so the team that wins that battle will give themselves a good chance to win the battle.
‘We will also be relying on good defence and good discipline. We can’t fall into that trap again and give away unnecessary penalties. We did ourselves no favours with the cards we got on our first tour, but we believe that is in the past now and we are looking forward.’
Fourie added that Edinburgh’s win had given them an opportunity they now needed to capitalise on.
‘Edinburgh’s win over Glasgow worked out well for us, and we are competing with them for third spot, and with Ulster for second spot in our conference. We are two points ahead of Glasgow, and we need to keep that lead over them.’
In Edinburgh former Kings captain Michael Willemse is looking forward to clashing with his former team-mates, who have been working tirelessly in the hot December sun to continue their upward trend in the competition.
‘I’m looking forward to it,” he told the Scotsman. “Those boys will be gunning for me but I’m looking forward to the challenge and it should be quite a nice one.’
Willemse also believes it will be a better Kings’ side than many will expect.
‘They’ve really been working hard. I’ve been speaking to a couple of the boys and they have definitely put some decent systems in place,’ said Willemse.
‘The bigger picture is turning into a positive thing with their first away win against the Ospreys [in November]. I think they will be pretty happy about that and take that into this game.
‘Looking at last year, the way that Kings beat Edinburgh back in Port Elizabeth [25-21], we will have to be on our A-game. We can’t take any games lightly and we will go into this one with a strong mind.’
Cheetahs vs Zebre
Kick off: 5pm. Live on SuperSport 1
Southern Kings v Edinburgh
Kick off: 9.40pm Live on SuperSport 1.
Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile via Getty Images