The Cheetahs will take a huge step towards playoff qualification if they beat the Cardiff Blues in Saturday’s Pro14 match at the Arms Park, writes MARIETTE ADAMS.
CARDIFF BLUES vs CHEETAHS (Saturday, 21:35)
Grouped together in Conference A, the Cheetahs and Blues – sitting behind the top-ranked Glasgow Warriors and second-ranked Munster – are vying for the crucial third spot, a position that guarantees safe passage through to the knockout stage.
As it stands, the Cheetahs’ 15-point lead over the Blues on the log puts them in the inside lane in the race to the quarter-finals. However, with eight rounds of regular season games still to be played, the Bloemfontein-based side would do well to pull further away from Cardiff, considering five of the Cheetahs’ remaining fixtures are on the road.
Nevertheless, the Cheetahs have come into some good form recently, resulting in four wins from their last five matches. And in a timely boost, captain Francois Venter has returned to the fray following a short stint on the sidelines due to a neck injury.
Cardiff are experiencing contrasting fortunes. After winning three of their last six Pro14 games, their squad depth was also dented by six call-ups to Wales’ Six Nations squad.
Home-ground advantage will count against the Cheetahs, but if coach Rory Duncan’s men can tighten up their defence against an already misfiring Blues attack while also maintaining their own accuracy when on attack, they should have enough firepower to beat the Blues and potentially move 20 points clear of them.
Cardiff Blues –15 Rhun Williams, 14 Aled Summerhill, 13 Garyn Smith, 12 Rey Lee-Lo, 11 Owen Lane, 10 Jarrod Evans, 9 Lloyd Williams, 8 Nick Williams, 7 Ellis Jenkins, 6 Macauley Cook, 5 Seb Davies, 4 George Earle, 3 Anton Peikrishvili, 2 Matthew Rees, 1 Gethin Jenkins (c).
Subs: 16 Kirby Myhill, 17 Brad Thyer, 18 Dillon Lewis, 19 Josh Turnbull, 20 Olly Robinson, 21 Tomos Williams, 22 Dan Fish, 23 Ryan Edwards
Cheetahs – 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Craig Barry, 13 Francois Venter (c), 12 Nico Lee, 11 Sibhale Maxwane, 10 Fred Zeilinga, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 Uzair Cassiem, 7 Oupa Mohoje, 6 Paul Schoeman, 5 Rynier Bernardo, 4 Justin Basson, 3 Johan Coetzee, 2 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 1 Ox Nche.
Subs: 16 Jacques Du Toit, 17 Charles Marais, 18 Tom Botha, 19 Carl Wegner, 20 Henco Venter, 21 Zee Mkhabela, 22 Niel Marais, 23 Malcolm Jaer.
ULSTER vs KINGS (Friday, 21:35)
The Kings’ struggles are of such a nature that Ulster will be happy with nothing less than a bonus-point win when they clash at Kingspan Stadium on Friday.
Unfortunately, the Kings – who conceded 90 points in their last two games – may offer little challenge for the hosts.
For the Kings, getting a win against Ulster went from a tough ask to a near-impossible task following the news that they had to go into the clash without the guidance of coach Deon Davids due to medical reasons. Davids did not travel abroad with the team; instead, Barend Pieterse took over his responsibilities.
Ulster are locked in a two-way battle with Edinburgh for third place in Conference B, and a handsome victory over the Kings at home will give them the upper hand.
Expect Ulster, even without the services of their international players, to inflict a heavy loss on the Kings.
Ulster – 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Craig Gilroy, 13 Luke Marshall, 12 Stuart McCloskey, 11 Rob Lyttle, 10 Johnny McPhillips, 9 John Cooney, 8 Nick Timoney, 7 Sean Reidy, 6 Mattie Rea, 5 Kieran Treadwell, 4 Alan O’Connor (c), 3 Wiehahn Herbst, 2 John Andrew, 1 Andrew Warwick.
Subs: 16 Rob Herring, 17 Kyle McCall, 18 Rodney Ah You, 19 Matt Dalton, 20 Chris Henry, 21 Jonny Stewart, 22 Darren Cave, 23 Louis Ludik.
Kings – 15 Masixole Banda, 14 Yaw Penxe, 13 Berton Klaasen, 12 Luzuko Vulindlu, 11 Anthony Volmink, 10 Martin du Toit, 9 Rowan Gouws, 8 Ruaan Lerm, 7 Burger Martinus, 6 Andisa Ntsila, 5 Bobby de Wee, 4 Stephan Greeff, 3 Pieter Scholtz, 2 Michael Willemse (c), 1 Schalk Ferreira.
Subs: 16 Stephan Coetzee, 17 Johan Smith, 18 Dayan van der Westhuizen, 19 Jurie van Vuuren, 20 Eital Bredenkamp, 21 Godlen Masimla, 22 Benhard Janse van Rensburg, 23 Harlon Klaasen.
Connacht welcome the Ospreys in what should be a closely-fought encounter; competition pacesetters, the Glasgow Warriors, should claim a comfortable triumph over the Dragons; Edinburgh will fancy their chances against a weakened Leinster side; Munster will be favourites to overcome Zebre; and the Scarlets are likely to inflict pain on Treviso.
Photo: Johan Pretorius/Gallo Images