The Toyota Cheetahs and Isuzu Southern Kings will have their sights set on bouncing back strongly from disappointing defeats last week when they line up against Ulster and the Scarlets in their second tour matches in the Guinness PRO14 this weekend.
The Toyota Cheetahs, in particular, will be under pressure to register a win to remain in the top three in Conference A with an eye on a possible playoff spot later in the season, as the chasing Glasgow Warriors trail by only two points.
The Toyota Cheetahs meet Ulster at the Kingspan Stadium in Belfast on Saturday night, while the Isuzu Southern Kings take on the Scarlets at Parc y Scarlets in Llanelli on Sunday.
The Toyota Cheetahs’ track record against Ulster will certainly give the side confidence going into the clash, with one win, a draw and a defeat in their last three outings in the competition.
The match in Ireland will have extra significance for veteran Toyota Cheetahs and Springbok scrumhalf Ruan Pienaar, who played for Ulster from 2010 to 2017.
“Having spent seven years at Ulster it will be a strange feeling running out at the Kingspan Stadium wearing a different jersey, but I am looking forward to it,” said Pienaar.
“It’s been a while since I played there, and I know how brilliant their supporters are. It is obviously a very important game for us and we are desperate to get the result. We will have to perform a lot better than in our last game, but training has gone well this week.”
Pienaar did not hide his disappointment about their 36-12 defeat against Leinster last week, but he said it was important to focus on what worked in that match going into Saturday’s match-up.
“We had a really tough outing against Leinster in bad conditions,” he said.
“But you have to take the positives from it, and in the second half we were much better. I may be wrong but we only conceded one try and scored two, our discipline was a lot better, we kept the ball a lot better and put them under pressure more.
“So yes, it was a tough game if you look at the scoreboard, but the way we ended was encouraging and we’ll try take that into this game.”
The Isuzu Southern Kings will also have something to prove this week after going down 68-3 against Munster in their last match, and although they have never won against the Scarlets, the fact that two of their four defeats were by seven points or less will serve as some encouragement for Robbie Kempson’s young team.
Defence will be a key aspect for the Port Elizabeth side this weekend to keep alive hopes of creating an upset as they have conceded the most points and tries in the competition up to now.
Guinness PRO14 fixtures:
Ulster v Toyota Cheetahs
Date: Saturday, 22 February
SA time: 21h35
Venue: Kingspan Stadium, Belfast
Referee: Mike Adamson
Assistant Referees: George Clancy and Sam Grove-White
TMO: Andrew McMenemy
Scarlets v Isuzu Southern Kings
Date: Sunday, 23 February
SA time: 19h15
Venue: Parc y Scarlets, Llanelli
Referee: Andrew Brace
Assistant Referees: Gareth John and Paul Haycock
TMO: Brian MacNeice