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Rugby | Pro14

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SA teams need to learn quick

The Toyota Cheetahs and the Southern Kings will be pleased to be continuing their Guinness PRO14 challenges on home turf this weekend but a dramatic improvement will be required from both if being on South African soil is to mean anything.

After two weekends where neither side came close in their games against mostly Irish opposition (the Scarlets win over the Kings in the opening round being the only exception) there is a desperate need for one of the South African participants to make a statement by winning on home turf. It is necessary if the continued warnings of the commentators that it will be a different story for the Celtic teams when the SA sides get home are to be taken seriously.

Initially the fixture list had the Kings hosting Zebre on Saturday, which would have meant an easier task for them as Zebre were well beaten 41-10 by Scarlets on their home field this past weekend. However, the newer fixture list to hand has the Kings hosting Leinster instead, and that is an entirely different proposition as the Irish province has been a traditionally strong rugby force.

The Cheetahs, instead of playing on Sunday, as the initial fixture list specified, will now be hosting Zebre later on Saturday, and given that they have the altitude factor on their side, they should be strongly favoured to get their first PRO14 win.

If they want to challenge for wins both teams need to iron out bad habits and deficiencies that they have carried over from their time in Super Rugby. The Kings might have pushed Connacht hard for a win in Galway were it not for the soft moments that saw them concede tries against the run of play at crucial times.

There was one in the second half and there was also one before halftime when the Kings had just scored a try to make it 10-5. They appeared to relax from the restart after that try and some rather ineffectual and switched off defending resulted in Connacht scoring a try that pushed them 12 points clear. It galvanised the hosts, who scored again on the stroke of halftime and effectively killed the game as a contest.

For the Cheetahs one of the big problems remains their defence. There were signs of improvement early in the game against Rassie Erasmus’ Munster but after that their defensive effort fell away and they lacked line-speed and, unlike the Kings later in the evening, passion. Munster did have dominance at forward but somehow it just seemed that scoring tries was too easy for them, with the ease with which they created the overlap making it look as though they were on the training field.

If neither team didn’t know it already, both the Cheetahs and Kings will know now that they face a formidable challenge in trying to match the Celtic teams at forward on their home fields. Connacht laid the foundation for their win with a dominant scrumming performance and they also made a mess of the Kings lineouts.

It was a similar story in Limerick, though Munster also have a much better all-round game than Connacht do. In both games there was some poor field kicking, which for those overseas people who also watched the Boks play the Wallabies earlier in the day must appear to be a South African problem, as was missing touch with penalties.

Gifting a team like Munster with possession with poor kicking was suicidal for the Cheetahs as it meant Munster could run at their suspect defence.

Perhaps on the dry fields and in the rarefied atmosphere of home the Cheetahs can take the opposing teams out of their comfort zones by injecting their own style on the game and lifting it to Super Rugby tempo. It will be interesting to see.

They need to win though to ensure interest going forward for at this point it appears that the positive contribution of the South African sides to the competition is a long term hope rather than a short term one.

Weekend SA results

Munster 51 Toyota Cheetahs 18

Connacht 32 Southern Kings 12

Next fixtures

Southern Kings v Leinster (Port Elizabeth, Saturday 3.15pm)

Toyota Cheetahs v Zebre (Bloemfontein, Saturday 8.30pm)


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