The Cheetahs and Kings will face contrasting challenges in their opening games of the new Pro14 season, writes MARIETTE ADAMS.
MUNSTER vs CHEETAHS, Saturday, 6:15pm (SA time)
The luck of the draw certainly didn’t favour the Cheetahs. Facing Munster at a packed Thomond Park has to be one of the biggest tests for any side in the Pro14, let alone doing so in your first match of a new season.
Although the Cheetahs will head into the game as underdogs, they should not be underestimated. The team from Bloemfontein have lost the services of several players from last season, including that of long-standing captain Francois Venter, but coach Franco Smith has managed to plug those gaps with a number of decent signings.
Munster, who have strengthened their ranks by way of signing Tadgh Beirne, Mike Haley and Test star Joey Carbery, are likely to come away with a victory, but a good performance from the Cheetahs in this game will set the tone for the rest of the season.
Seven Cheetahs players – Tian Schoeman, Luan de Bruin, JP du Preez, Walt Steenkamp, Benhard Janse van Rensburg, Aidon Davis and Ryno Eksteen – will make their Pro14 debuts in what will be the team’s second game in Limerick.
Meanwhile, lock Jean Kleyn and No 8 Arno Botha will square off against their compatriots after the South African duo was included in Munster’s run-on XV.
Sticking with the South African theme, the tactical battle between Smith and Munster boss Johann van Graan should also be interesting. The pair were colleagues last year while serving as Springbok assistant coaches under Allister Coetzee.
Munster – 15 Mike Haley; 14 Darren Sweetnam, 13 Dan Goggin, 12 Rory Scannell, 11 Shane Daly; 10 JJ Hanrahan, 9 Neil Cronin, 8 Arno Botha, 7 Tommy O’Donnell, 6 Dave O’Callaghan, 5 Billy Holland, 4 Jean Kleyn, 3 John Ryan, 2 Mike Sherry, 1 Dave Kilcoyne.
Subs: 16 Rhys Marshall, 17 Brian Scott, 18 Stephen Archer, 19 Darren O’Shea, 20 Gavin Coombes, 21 James Hart, 22 Joey Carbery, 23 Sammy Arnold.
Cheetahs –15 Malcolm Jaer, 14 Rabz Maxwane, 13 Benhard Janse van Rensburg, 12 Nico Lee, 11 William Small-Smith, 10 Tian Schoeman, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 Jasper Wiese, 7 Oupa Mohoje, 6 Junior Pokomela, 5 JP du Preez, 4 Justin Basson, 3 Luan de Bruin, 2 Jacques du Toit, 1 Ox Nche.
Subs: 16 Joseph Dweba, 17 Charles Marais, 18 Aranos Coetzee, 19 Walt Steenkamp, 20 Aidon Davis, 21 Tian Meyer, 22 Ernst Stapelberg, 23 Ryno Eksteen.
ZEBRE vs KINGS, Friday, 8:25pm (SA time)
It’s fair to say the contest between the sides should be relatively even. Zebre and the Kings were the worst-performing teams last season, winning eight games between them. Zebre finished bottom of the Conference A standings and the Kings last on the Conference B log.
Because their encounter was a cross-conference fixture, the Kings and Zebre only met once last season, with the Italian side winning 43-17 in Port Elizabeth.
Admittedly, the Kings were still trying to find their way in a new competition when they were on the end of that particular result. Going into this weekend’s game, the Kings should be able to mount a far greater challenge against Zebre.
Coach Deon Davids has selected a relatively settled lineup, but he has handed starting debuts to newcomers Michael Botha and openside flank Bakkies Brown. Former Bulls utility back Ulrich Beyers has been named on the bench.
Davids insists his charges have what it takes to secure the log points on offer.
‘We’ve had some really good sessions despite the very warm and humid conditions being experienced in this part of the world at the moment,’ he said. ‘We are preparing for a very physical and high-tempo challenge from Zebre. They have lots of experience and will be playing in front of a very passionate crowd, but if we focus on ourselves then I believe we have what it takes to win.’
Zebre – 15 Matteo Minozzi, 14 Mattia Bellini, 13 Giulio Bisegni, 12 Tommaso Castello (c), 11 Giovanbattista Venditti, 10 Carlo Canna, 9 Marcello Violi, 8 Renato Giammarioli, 7 Johan Meyer, 6 David Sisi, 5 George Biagi, 4 Leonard Krumov, 3 Dario Chistolini, 2 Oliviero Fabiani, 1 Andrea Lovotti
Subs: 16 Massimo Ceciliani, 17 Daniele Rimpelli, 18 Giosué Zilocchi, 19 Apisai Tauyavuca, 20 Jimmy Tuivaiti, 21 Guglielmo Palazzani, 22 Francois Brummer, 23 Edoardo Padovani.
Kings – 15 Michael Botha, 14 Michael Makase, 13 Harlon Klaasen, 12 Berton Klaasen, 11 Yaw Penxe, 10 Masixole Banda, 9 Poerie van Rooyen, 8 Ruaan Lerm, 7 Tienie Burger, 6 Bakkies Brown, 5 Bobby de Wee, 4 Schalk Oelofse, 3 Luvuyo Pupuma, 2 Michael Willemse (c), 1 Justin Forwood.
Subs: 16 Alandre van Rooyen, 17 Schalk Ferreira, 18 Luphumlo Mguca, 19 JC Astle, 20 Andisa Ntsila, 21 Godlen Masimla, 22 Martin du Toit, 23 Ulrich Beyers.
Champions Leinster begin their title defence on the road against the Cardiff Blues, while Edinburgh will face a stern challenge against hosts the Ospreys at the Liberty Stadium.
The Glasgow Warriors kick off their campaign against Connacht in Galway, 2017-18 runners-up the Scarlets take on Ulster in Belfast and the Dragons welcome last season’s surprise package Treviso.
Photo: Gallo Images