The Kings and Cheetahs will be looking for a successful resumption of the Pro14 after a short break during December, writes DYLAN JACK.
EDINBURGH vs KINGS (Saturday, 9:35pm)
After slumping to four successive home defeats, the Kings face a tough prospect in getting their campaign back on track against Edinburgh, who are coming off a high after doing the double over Scottish rivals the Glasgow Warriors.
The hosts are currently sitting two places above the Kings in fifth place in Conference B, but are still well in the race for a playoff spot as they trail third-placed Benetton Treviso by just a single point. They also boast a strong lineup, including familiar faces in flyhalf Jaco van der Walt, wing Duhan van der Merwe and front rowers WP Nel, Pierre Schoeman and Allan Dell.
Van der Merwe, younger brother of Sharks hooker Akker, should be watched. He recently scored a brace of intercept tries to give Edinburgh their first win against the Warriors in December and leads the stats in terms of clean breaks and defenders beaten.
The Kings, meanwhile, remain rooted to the bottom of the conference, despite looking like a better side than last season, and being especially deadly on the counter-attack. Good news for them is that veteran scrumhalf Sarel Pretorius, who has been injured since arriving from the Dragons in March 2018, is finally fit and will play his first game for the Port Elizabeth side.
Coach Deon Davids has also made a shrewd move by recruiting former academy director and Springbok prop Robbie Kempson as a coaching consultant. His experience as a forwards coach, in particular, should assist a Kings’ front row that has often been shunted backwards this season.
While even an unlikely bonus-point win will not be enough to see the visitors rise in the table, leaving Murrayfield with some confidence will be important for the Kings as their South African derby against the Cheetahs is on the horizon.
Edinburgh – 15 Dougie Fife, 14 Darcy Graham, 13 George Taylor, 12 Juan Pablo Socino, 11 Duhan van der Merwe, 10 Simon Hickey, 9 Nathan Fowles, 8 Viliame Mata, 7 Luke Crosbie, 6 Jamie Ritchie, 5 Callum Hunter-Hill, 4 Fraser McKenzie, 3 Simon Berghan, 2 David Cherry, 1 Rory Sutherland.
Subs: 16 Ross Ford; 17 Pierre Schoeman; 18 Pietro Ceccarelli; 19 Ben Toolis; 20 Ally Miller; 21. Charlie Shiel; 22 Jaco van der Walt; 23 James Johnstone.
Kings – 15 Masixole Banda, 14 Michael Makase, 13 Harlon Klaasen, 12 Tertius Kruger, 11 Yaw Penxe, 10 Martin du Toit, 9 Stefan Ungerer, 8 Ruaan Lerm, 7 Martinus Burger, 6 CJ Velleman, 5 JC Astle (c), 4 Stephan Greef, 3 Pieter Scholtz, 2 Alandre van Rooyen, 1 Alulutho Tshakweni.
Subs: 16 Michael Willemse, 17 Nicolaas Oosthuizen, 18 Luvuyo Pupuma, 19 Lubabalo Mtyanda, 20 Andries van Schalkwyk, 21 Sarel Pretorius, 22 Berton Klaasen, 23 Ntabeni Dukisa.
ZEBRE vs CHEETAHS (Sunday, 3pm)
A match against a struggling Zebre team presents the Cheetahs with a wonderful opportunity to grab not only their first away win this season, but also put some distance between themselves and the bottom of the table.
The Bloemfontein-based side finished the first half of the season on a low after losing 21-17 to Connacht at home, but should be reinvigorated after enjoying their break in fixtures, given they had to divide their squad and efforts with the Currie Cup last year. They currently sit one point ahead of Zebre, who have one more win than them, in Conference A.
The Cheetahs are currently unbeaten against Zebre, having won both fixtures last season. They have been boosted by the return of top try-scorer Rabz Maxwane, who missed their loss against Connacht with a leg injury.
As coach Franco Smith rightly pointed out, individual performances have not been a problem for the Cheetahs this season as they are up there with the best teams in terms of lineouts won, tries scored, metres made and clean breaks. However, what is needed is a collective effort, particularly defensively, if they hope to climb the table and make it into their second successive playoffs.
Zebre – 15 Edoardo Padovani, 14 Paula Balekana, 13 Giulio Bisegni, 12 Nicolas De Battista, 11 James Elliott, 10 Carlo Canna, 9 Guglielmo Palazzani, 8 Jimmy Tuivaiti, 7 Giovanni Licata, 6 Maxime Mbandà, 5 Samuele Ortis, 4 David Sisi (c), 3 Eduardo Bello, 2 Massimo Ceciliani, 1 Andrea Lovotti.
Subs:16 Luhandre Luus, 17 Daniele Rimpelli, 18 Giosue Zilocchi, 19 George Biagi, 20 Iacopo Bianchi, 21 Josh Renton, 22 Francois Brummer, 23 Tommaso Boni.
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, 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 Reinach Venter, 17 Charles Marais, 18 Luan de Bruin, 19 Sintu Manjezi, 20 Walt Steenkamp, 21 Abongile Nonkontwana, 22 Rudy Paige, 23 Louis Fouche.
High-flying Treviso meet Conference A leaders the Glasgow Warriors, who will want to bounce back after faltering over December. The Ospreys face the Cardiff Blues in a massive Welsh derby, Leinster could solidify their place on top of Conference B when they take on Ulster, the Scarlets host the Dragons, and Connacht could climb into second place in Conference A with a win against Munster.
Photo: Frikkie Kapp/Gallo Images