The pressure will fall squarely on the Toyota Cheetahs and Isuzu Southern Kings in their Guinness PRO14 clashes this weekend as the Free States eye a possible return to the top three in Conference A, while the men from Port Elizabeth will have a deep desire to please their home fans after a challenging run this season.
The Toyota Cheetahs meet the Dragons in Newport on Saturday in what marks their last game on their three-week UK tour and their penultimate match abroad this season, while the Isuzu Southern Kings are back in Port Elizabeth where they will line up against Connacht on Sunday in a game they will target to turn the corner after a series of disappointing results.
In Wales, Toyota Cheetahs coach Hawies Fourie’s charges will be determined to end a three-match losing run and return home high on confidence before a string of home matches, which includes six matches in Bloemfontein and another away to the Isuzu Southern Kings.
They will, however, be tested thoroughly because apart from facing a committed Dragons outfit on their home patch, they will face a big obstacle in the form of Storm Jorge, which is expected to hit the UK on Saturday bringing gusts of wind between 150km and 200km an hour and heavy rain.
According to Fourie the ground at Newport is already wet and muddy, and he is anticipating the worst weather conditions yet this season.
“These will definitely be the toughest conditions we have encountered so far,” said Fourie, whose team struggled in a heavy downpour against Leinster two weeks ago.
“In addition to rain, huge wind is expected, and the field is already wet. So the game is likely to be played in a mud bath. That is a leveller in any rugby match.
“The Dragons have a bit of experience of the conditions as they played the Warriors last week in Glasgow in very bad conditions. They scored three tries and didn’t lose that game by much. But we are determined to end the tour on a high note.”
A victory for the Free Staters could see them force their way back into the top three in their conference should the Warriors – who are currently three points ahead of them on the standings – suffer a defeat against the unbeaten Leinster.
And on Sunday afternoon in Port Elizabeth, the Isuzu Southern Kings will look forward to being back in familiar conditions when they host Connacht, although Robbie Kempson (coach) expected the opposition to adapt well to the warmer weather.
“If it was 35 degrees here then it would favour us, but the weather is much milder at the coast,” said Kempson.
“It is tougher travelling there. But we play in a northern hemisphere competition, so we just have to learn to adapt to the conditions.”
Kempson believes his team’s best performance this season was in their away game to Connacht, and as a result he anticipated a good contest against what he considers a formidable team that will be hurting from last week’s unexpectedly big loss to Edinburgh.
“It was our best performance, but they still managed to get one over us,” said Kempson.
“Andy Friend is an excellent coach, and they have an abrasive pack and players out wide that are very dangerous. They played well in Europe this year and we are expecting that kind of performance from them.”
Guinness PRO14 fixtures:
Dragons v Toyota Cheetahs
Date: Saturday, 29 February
SA time: 19h15
Venue: Rodney Parade, Newport
Referee: Andrew Brace
Assistant Referees: Adam Jones and Stuart Gaffikin
TMO: Brian MacNeice
Isuzu Southern Kings v Connacht
Date: Sunday, 1 March
SA time: 15h00
Venue: Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth
Referee: Cwengile Jadezweni
Assistant Referees: Ruhan Meiring and Ben Crouse
TMO: Christie du Preez
Issued by SA Rugby Communication