MARIETTE ADAMS looks ahead to the Pro14 matches involving the Cheetahs and Kings this weekend.
LEINSTER vs CHEETAHS (Friday, 9:35pm)
The Cheetahs will have their work cut out for them when they take on defending Pro14 and European champions Leinster at RDS Arena.
For all their efforts in recent weeks, the Cheetahs are expected to come up short against a Leinster side oozing confidence.
Despite the unavailability of several high-profile players, who are on Six Nations duty, the Leinster ‘B team’ has claimed two one-sided bonus-point victories. In stark contrast, the Cheetahs’ best available side slumped to successive away defeats against Connacht and the Scarlets.
If Leinster do clinch a bonus-point win on Friday night, they will have an unassailable lead at the top of the Conference B log, with four rounds remaining, while the Cheetahs’ playoff hopes might be over, depending on other results.
In team news, scrumhalf Tian Meyer and hooker Reinach Venter come into the Cheetahs’ lineup, while the bench is boosted by the return of prop Charles Marais.
Leinster – 15 Dave Kearney, 14 Adam Byrne, 13 Rory O’Loughlin, 12 Conor O’Brien, 11 Fergus McFadden, 10 Ross Byrne, 9 Jamison Gibson-Park, 8 Caelan Doris, 7 Max Deegan, 6 Rhys Ruddock (c), 5 Scott Fardy, 4 Ross Molony, 3 Michael Bent, 2 Bryan Byrne, 1 Peter Dooley.
Subs: 16 James Tracy, 17 Ed Byrne, 18 Andrew Porter, 19 Mick Kearney, 20 Josh Murphy, 21 Hugh O’Sullivan, 22 Noel Reid, 23 Barry Daly.
Cheetahs – 15 Louis Fouché, 14 William Small-Smith, 13 Benhard Janse van Rensburg, 12 Dries Swanepoel, 11 Rabz Maxwane, 10 Tian Schoeman, 9 Tian Meyer (c), 8 Junior Pokomela, 7 Abongile Nonkontwana , 6 Gerhard Olivier, 5 JP du Preez, 4 Walt Steenkamp, 3 Aranos Coetzee, 2 Reinach Venter, 1 Ox Nche.
Subs: 16 Jacques du Toit, 17 Charles Marais, 18 Luan de Bruin, 19 Sintu Manjezi, 20 Marnus van der Merwe, 21 Henco Venter, 22 Shaun Venter, 23 Rudy Paige.
CARDIFF BLUES vs KINGS (Saturday, 9:35pm)
With the battle for third place in Conference A heating up, the Cardiff Blues will take a significant step towards playoff qualification if they beat the Kings.
Connacht, the Ospreys and Cheetahs are hot on Cardiff’s heels, with just six log points between them in third and sixth position on the table.
It’s difficult to gauge the Kings’ progress as a unit, but they’ve shown they are capable of causing an upset. And an against-the-odds win in the Welsh capital would go a long way towards keeping the Cheetahs’ season alive.
However, the likelihood of an upset was reduced when Wales coach Warren Gatland released flyhalf Jarrod Evans, scrumhalf Tomos Williams and lock Seb Davies to play for Cardiff. Evans is fast-tracked into the starting lineup, while Williams and Davies will play off the bench.
The Kings have brought centre Tertius Kruger, No 8 Andisa Ntsila and lock JC Astle (captain) into their starting lineup.
Cardiff Blues – 15 Aled Summerhill, 14 Owen Lane, 13 Harri Millard, 12 Willis Halaholo, 11 Jason Harries, 1o Jarrod Evans, 9 Lloyd Williams, Nick Williams (c), 7 Olly Robinson, 6 Shane Lewis-Hughes, 5 Macauley Cook, 4 George Earle, 3 Scott Andrews, 2 Liam Belcher, 1 Brad Thyer.
Subs: 16 Ethan Lewis, 17 Corey Domachowski, 18 Keiron Assiratti, 19 Rory Thornton, 20 Seb Davies, 21 Tomos Williams, 22 Garyn Smith, 23 Matthew Morgan.
Kings – 15 Ulrich Beyers, 14 Yaw Penxe, 13 Meli Rokoua, 12 Tertius Kruger, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Bader Pretorius, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Andisa Ntsila, 7 Martinus Burger, 6 Henry Brown, 5 JC Astle (c), 4 Dries van Schalkwyk, 3 De-Jay Terblanche, 2 Michael Willemse, 1 Alulutho Tshakweni.
Subs: 16 Alandre van Rooyen, 17 Schalk Ferreira, 18 Lupumlo Mguca, 19 Stephan Greeff, 20 Steph de Wit, 21 Rudi van Rooyen, 22 Berton Klaasen, 23 Masixole Banda.
Munster travel to Llanelli where they will face the Scarlets, with three points separating them on the log. Connacht welcome the Ospreys for a crucial Conference A contest, while Treviso will be gunning for a third consecutive win when they take on Edinburgh. Zebre will be up against it when they host the Glasgow Warriors in Parma, and Ulster are well-placed to inflict a fifth straight defeat on the struggling Dragons.