The Isuzu Southern Kings and Toyota Cheetahs will be ready for action after a handful of inspiring performances in the last few weeks when they face two Irish Guinness PRO14 playoff contenders, Munster and Connacht, this weekend.
The Toyota Cheetahs will hunt their fifth successive victory when they meet Connacht in Galway on Saturday, while the Isuzu Southern Kings will be determined to surprise Munster in Cork on Friday after one win and three narrow defeats in their last four matches.
The Isuzu Southern Kings may be at the foot of the Conference B log, but after toppling playoff contenders, Edinburgh, last month, Johann van Graan’s Munster side will not underestimate the men from PE.
Deon Davids’ men have only faced the Irish giants once and lost, but with seven pool matches left this season and the Isuzu Southern Kings showing a new-found confidence after a slow start to the season, they will enter the match with the mind-set that they have nothing to lose.
They are, however, expected to face a home team dead-set on maintaining their lead in Conference A, and who will have their sights set on their fourth successive victory and stretching their unbeaten run at home to 18 matches, which is expected to spice up the clash.
The men from the Eastern Cape will have to be solid on defence, in particular, to keep alive hopes of a victory, as Munster have scored the second-highest number of points in the tournament so far, with 404 points earned in their 14 matches.
The Isuzu Southern Kings will be without one of their main ball-pilferers CJ Velleman, who is serving a three-match suspension, but prop Pieter Scholtz is back after serving his ban.
In Galway, meanwhile, the clash between Connacht and the Toyota Cheetahs is expected to be a humdinger with both teams in the 11-team race for playoff spots.
The Free Staters will enter the match high on confidence after a string of victories pushed them into contention for reaching the knock-outs for a second successive season. The fact that they have defeated Connacht before and went down against them by a narrow four points in their last outing will also fuel their determination to win.
Connacht, in turn, will be desperate for a change of fortunes after back-to-back defeats, especially with every result set to count in the next few weeks.
Franco Smith’s charges have been superior on attack this season with 366 points scored to Connacht’s 309, but the hosts will look to build on their effective defence to shut them out.
The home side, however, are expected to keep a close eye on Junior Pokomela, Malcolm Jaer and Rabz Maxwane, in particular, who top the lineout steals, metres gained and clean breaks statistics in the competition.
Guinness PRO 14 round 15 fixtures:
Munster v Isuzu Southern Kings
Date: Friday, 15 February
SA time: 21h35
Venue: Irish Independent Park, Cork
Referee: Andrea Piardi (FIR)
Assistant referees: Sean Gallagher (IRFU), Matteo Liperini (FIR)
TMO: Alan Falzone (FIR)
Connacht v Toyota Cheetahs
Date: Saturday, 16 February
SA time: 19h30
Venue: The Sportsground, Galway
Referee: Nigel Owens (WRU)
Assistant referees: John Lacey (IRFU), Mike English (WRU)
TMO: Brian MacNeice (IRFU)
Other Round 15 matches (SA kick-off times):
Friday, 15 February:
21h35: Edinburgh v Dragons – BT Murrayfield, Edinburgh
21h35: Ospreys v Ulster – Morganstone Brewery Field, Bridgend
Saturday, 16 February:
16h30: Zebre v Leinster – Stadio Zaffanella, Viadana
19h15: Benetton v Scarlets – Stadio Monigo, Treviso
21h35: Cardiff Blues v Glasgow Warriors – Cardiff Arms Park