The Isuzu Southern Kings and Toyota Cheetahs will aim to hit the ground running in the Guinness PRO14 this weekend after a four-week festive season break when they line up against Edinburgh and Zebre Rugby Club in Scotland and Italy respectively.
While their European counterparts took to the field in the last two weeks, the SA sides enjoyed an extended Christmas break, meaning they will have to fire on all cylinders from the outset to make a strong statement as their 2019 action kicks off.
The Isuzu Southern Kings and Edinburgh will meet at Murrayfield on Saturday, while the Toyota Cheetahs take on Zebre Rugby Club at Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi in Parma in the only match on Sunday.
In Scotland, Edinburgh will be hunting their third victory in a row and third successive win against the Isuzu Southern Kings in the competition when they cross paths, although this will be the first time they meet in the 2018/19 season.
Despite the hosts winning six of their 12 matches and the Port Elizabeth side only one of their 10 matches, the visitors have scored only 46 points less than their opponents, while they have outscored Edinburgh 28 tries to 27, and conceded only eight tries more, meaning it could be an exciting clash.
In their two matches last season Edinburgh registered bonus point victories, which is expected to fuel the visitors’ determination to win.
Coach Deon Davids’ named a 25-man travelling squad earlier this week, which was bolstered by the return of Michael Willemse, Alandre van Rooyen and Berton Klaasen from injury, while Sarel Pretorius is set to make his debut for the Isuzu Southern Kings after recovering from the foot injury that kept him out of action in the early stages of the competition.
The Toyota Cheetahs, meanwhile, will enter their match against Zebre Rugby Club with confidence, as they occupy a higher log position than their Italian rivals despite playing two less matches in the competition.
The hosts boast three victories in 12 matches to the Toyota Cheetahs’ two in 10 outings, but the Free Staters have scored 63 more points in their matches, with their superior attack steering them to 31 tries to Zebre’s 19.
Coach Franco Smith’s men, however, will have to step up their defence, as Zebre have been more effective in that department.
This will mark the sides’ first clash this season, but after registering a comprehensive victory against Zebre Rugby Club in Bloemfontein and defeating the Italians 24-23 at home last season, the Toyota Cheetahs will look to continue this dominance against the side from Parma.
Guinness PRO 14 Round 13 fixtures:
Edinburgh v Isuzu Southern Kings
Date: Saturday, 5 January
SA time: 21h35
Venue: BT Murrayfield, Edinburgh
Referee: John Lacey (IRFU)
Assistant referees: Johnny Erskine (IRFU) and Hollie Davidson (SRU)
TMO: Andrew McMenemy (SRU)
Zebre v Toyota Cheetahs
Date: Sunday, 6 January
SA time: 15h00
Venue: Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi, Parma
Referee: Dan Jones (WRU)
Assistant referees: Aled Evans (WRU) and Gianluca Gnecchi (FIR)
TMO: Stefano Roscini (FIR)
Other Round 13 matches (SA kick-off times):
Saturday, 5 January:
16h00: Benetton v Glasgow Warriors – Stadio Montigo, Treviso
17h00: Ospreys v Cardiff Blues – Liberty Stadium, Swansea
19h15: Leinster v Ulster – RDS Arena, Dublin
19h15: Scarlets v Dragons – Parc y Scarlets, Llanelli
21h35: Connacht v Munster – The Sportsground, Galway