The Kings and Cheetahs will engage in a basement battle in Port Elizabeth on Friday night. MARIETTE ADAMS reports.
South Africa’s Pro14 representatives make up two of the three worst-performing sides in the competition. While the Cheetahs still have a very slim shot at making the playoffs, the Kings are already just making up the numbers and playing for pride.
That said, with local bragging rights at stake, this clash promises to be every bit as brutal as any other South African derby.
This will be the teams’ first meeting of the season. The Cheetahs boast a perfect record against the Kings in the Pro14, and have won three of their last five matches.
Cheetahs coach Franco Smith wants his team to build on that form in PE.
‘My aim isn’t to just beat the Kings, but for Free State rugby to continually roll out its best performances,’ he said. ‘We want to go on a winning run as we did in the 2016 Currie Cup.’
Wing Sibahle Maxwane and lock JP du Perez have been the Cheetahs’ standout performers, with Sibahle topping the tournament’s try-scoring charts (eight) and Du Preez at the top of the list for lineouts won (55). Sibahle is a destructive runner when allowed time on the ball, and given the Kings’ already brittle defence, they can’t afford to give the 23-year-old free rein.
The Kings have struggled with injuries in recent weeks, but have been boosted by the return of loose forwards Henry Brown and Andisa Ntsila, and prop Rossouw de Klerk. Brown will start at blindside flank in his first game since October, while Ntsila and Rossouw beef up the Kings’ bench.
The Kings were scrummed into the ground by Edinburgh, and coach Deon David has made the necessary changes up front. Props Nicolaas Oosthuizen and Schalk Ferreira, along with hooker Michael Willemse, have been deployed to counter the Cheetahs’ dominant front rowers, Aranos Coetzee, Joseph Dweba and Ox Nche.
There’s just one change to the Cheetahs’ match 23, which sees the inclusion of Shaun Venter on the bench ahead of Rudy Paige.
Friday’s game kicks off at 7pm.
Kings – 15 Masixole Banda, 14 Yaw Penxe, 13 Tertius Kruger, 12 Berton Klaasen, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Ntabeni Dukisa 9 Stefan Ungerer, 8 Ruaan Lerm, 7 Henry Brown, 6 Cyril-John Velleman, 5 John-Charles Astle (c), 4 Stephan Greeff, 3 Nicolaas Oosthuizen, 2 Michael Willemse, 1 Schalk Ferreira.
Subs: 16 Alandre van Rooyen, 17 Lumpumlo Mguca, 18 Rossouw de Klerk, 19 Andries van Schalkwyk, 20 Andisa Ntsila, 21 Sarel Pretorius, 22 Martin du Toit, 23 Harlon Klaasen.
Cheetahs – 15 Malcolm Jaer, 14 William Small-Smith, 13 Benhard Janse van Rensburg, 12 Nico Lee, 11 Rabz Maxwane, 10 Tian Schoeman, 9 Tian Meyer (c), 8 Daniel Maartens, 7 Junior Pokomela, 6 Gerhard Olivier, 5 JP du Preez, 4 Justin Basson, 3 Aranos Coetzee, 2 Joseph Dweba, 1 Ox Nche.
Subs: 16 Marnus van der Merwe/Reinach Venter, 17 Charles Marais, 18 Luan de Bruin, 19 Sintu Manjezi, 20 Walt Steenkamp, 21 Abongile Nonkontwana, 22 Shaun Venter, 23 Louis Fouché.
Photo: Michael Sheehan/Gallo Images