The Isuzu Southern Kings and Toyota Cheetahs will be bracing themselves for an action-packed Guinness PRO14 derby on Saturday at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth in what will mark the first encounter between the sides this season and the only match of the weekend.
Pride will be a big factor for both sides, but a good result will be of utmost importance too. The Free Staters are determined to win to remain close to the top of the log in their conference to stay in contention for a playoff spot later in the season, while a victory for the hosts would serve as proof that their steady improvement is paying dividends.
With four victories in their last eight matches to only one win by the Isuzu Southern Kings, the Toyota Cheetahs will enter the match as favourites, but Hawies Fourie (coach) insisted that they would not underestimate their countrymen, especially after making that mistake against Zebre early in January, which saw them slump to a 41-13 defeat.
In fact, Fourie went as far as warning his charges to “pitch up” or risk facing a big blow to their playoff hopes.
“I told the players that the previous three games in Port Elizabeth were close, with the scores being 29-20, 21-20 and 24-17,” said Fourie.
“And that is what we will encounter again. If we don’t pitch up and play well, then we will be in the same boat that we were in against Zebre.
“We have worked hard and mentally we know where we are. We know what mistakes we made against Zebre, so we will definitely put up a better performance.”
Fourie added: “You can’t underestimate any team in the competition. Zebre is a quality team, and our problem was that there were individuals that believed we would come back with five points in the bag.
“This means that we need to win another game to get back to where we need to be.”
Fourie expected a strong challenge from the hosts and said: “My feeling is that this is the game the Kings have been looking forward to for the entire season. If they beat us they will feel they are the best Guinness PRO14 side in South Africa. They have improved quite a lot since the start of the competition, and we will not underestimate them.”
Isuzu Southern Kings coach Robbie Kempson, meanwhile, said they were looking forward to meeting the Toyota Cheetahs and he predicted an entertaining spectacle.
“There’s always is something in these games,” said Kempson.
“It’s mates playing against each other and they have quite a few of our ex-players up there playing for them. There is already quite a bit of banter going on.
“I think it will be a good spectacle of rugby, especially given the way we both want to play. It will appeal to anyone who is watching.”
Kempson was confident that his team’s character would shine through in the clash and said: “In the last six to eight months we went through a process where we really changed the culture of the group. The leadership group has changed significantly from what we had initially and the culture of the team has grown immensely.”
Guinness PRO14 fixture:
Isuzu Southern Kings v Toyota Cheetahs
SA time: 15h30
Date: Saturday, 25 January
Venue: Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth
Referee: Stuart Berry
Assistant Referees: Divan Uys and Quinton Immelman
TMO: Johann Greeff
TV: SS1Distributed by APO Group on behalf of South African Rugby Union.