MARIETTE ADAMS looks ahead to the Pro14 matches involving the Cheetahs and Kings on Saturday.
CHEETAHS vs ZEBRE (Saturday, 3pm)
Take a moment to consider that Zebre have lost eight of their last 10 games in all competitions this season, including a barren six-match losing streak in the Pro14, and you’d think it’s a given that the Cheetahs will enter this clash as favourites.
And yet, the Italian side only trail their hosts by 10 log points in the Conference A standings. In essence, Zebre could overtake the Cheetahs after two rounds if they win their next couple of games and the Cheetahs lose theirs.
The margins are small, and for this reason the Cheetahs have to approach the match without a shred of complacency. Historically, the Cheetahs boast a decent record against the Italian club, winning all three of the clashes between them to date.
The Cheetahs have, with horrific regularity, been the architects of their own demise this season because of their continued preference to play expansively. But it might not be a bad ploy against a Zebre side short of a genuine defensive structure and discipline.
Comparatively, Zebre are more reliant on forward play. They’ll likely attempt to slow the game down to try and gain the upper hand over the Cheetahs in the tight exchanges.
But the Cheetahs should be able to overcome any challenge Zebre throw at them and bank all the points on offer.
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 Gerhard Olivier, 7 Abongile Nonkontwana, 6 Junior Pokomela, 5 Walt Steenkamp, 4 Sintu Manjezi, 3 Aranos Coetzee, 2 Joseph Dweba, 1 Ox Nche.
Subs: 16 Reinach Venter, 17 Charles Marais, 18 Luan de Bruin, 19 Justin Basson, 20 JP du Preez, 21 Niell Jordaan, 22 Shaun Venter, 23 Louis Fouché.
Zebre – 15 Francois Brummer, 14 Paula Balekana, 13 James Elliott, 12 Tommaso Boni, 11 Gabriele di Guilio, 10 Carlo Canna, 9 Joshua Renton, 8 Giovanni Licata, 7 Johan Meyer, 6 Iacopo Bianchi, 5 George Biagi (c), 4 Samuele Ortis, 3 Eduardo Bello, 2 Luhandré Luus, 1 Daniele Rimpelli.
Subs: 16 Massimo Ceciliani, 17 Danilo Fischetti, 18 Dario Chistolini, 19 Apisai Tauyavuca. 20 James Brown, 21 Riccardo Raffaele, 22 Maicol Azzolini, 23 Giovanbattista Venditti.
KINGS vs EDINBURGH (Saturday, 5:15pm)
As has often been the case with games involving the Kings this season, this could be the biggest mismatch of the round. To illustrate the point, Edinburgh are sitting comfortably in second place in the Conference B standings, 22 points ahead of the Kings, who are at the bottom of the log.
Expect the Kings to offer a competitive edge at the start of the game, but it shouldn’t be too difficult for Edinburgh to break down the Kings’ resistance as they go in search of a likely bonus-point win.
An interesting battle to keep an eye on in this fixture, is the one between hookers Michael Willemse and David Cherry. Willemse will want to dominate his opponent, as his performance can be regarded as an audition for his prospective move to Edinburgh.
Kings – 15 Masixole Banda, 14 Yaw Penxe, 13 Harlon Klaasen, 12 Tertius Kruger, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Ntabeni Dukisa, 9 Stefan Ungerer, 8 Andisa Ntsila, 7 Tienie Burger, 6 CJ Velleman, 5 JC Astle, 4 Andries van Schalkwyk, 3 Luvuyo Pupuma, 2 Michael Willemse, 1 Schalk Ferreira/Alulutho Tshakweni
Subs: 16 Alandre Van Rooyen, 17 Lupumlo Mguca, 18 Alulutho Tshakweni/Nicolaas Oosthuizen, 19 Stephan Greeff, 20 Henry Brown, 21 Sarel Pretorius, 22 Bader Pretorius, 23 Meli Rokoua.
Edinburgh – 15 Dougie Fife, 14 Tom Brown, 13 George Taylor, 12 Chris Dean, 11 James Johnstone, 10 Jaco van der Walt, 9 Henry Pyrgos, 8 Viliame Mata, 7 Ally Miller, 6 Luke Crosbie, 5 Callum Hunter-Hill, 4 Fraser McKenzie (c), 3 Pietro Ceccarelli, 2 David Cherry, 1 Pierre Schoeman.
Subs: 16 Ross Ford, 17 Darryl Marfo, 18 Murray McCallum, 19 Jamie Hodgson, 20 Mungo Mason, 21 Nathan Fowles, 22 Simon Hickey, 23 Juan Pablo Socino.
The Glasgow Warriors host the Ospreys, who will have a chance to draw level with Glasgow on 42 log points if they secure a bonus-point win. Meanwhile, Leinster are odds-on favourites ahead of their match against the Scarlets, the high-flying Benetton Treviso travel to Belfast to face Ulster, coach Johann van Graan’s Munster will square off against the Dragons, and the mid-table encounter between Connacht and the Cardiff Blues will conclude the weekend’s action.