Guinness Pro 14: Round 17 Preview

The unusual March cold weather known in the business as ‘the beast from the east’ has deprived us of all Irish, Welsh and Scottish Guinness Pro14 fixtures this weekend. Disappointing considering the games that were on tap but thankfully there are no such problems south of the equator where Dragons and Connacht Rugby look to secure wins against the Southern Kings and Toyota Cheetahs respectively. Hawkeye Sidekick previews the action.

Conference B clash where bottom team faces second bottom. A pivotal fixture as Southern Kings will look to secure a first league win of the season (long overdue) or Dragons securing their first league win since last September.

Southern Kings had a torrid European three game tour. The blowout loss to Leinster Rugby must be considered the low point of the season so far. Leinster Rugby dominated proceedings from start to finish and already had their fourth try registered within the first quarter. The display was well below the standards required and there needs to be a reaction in the ranks this weekend.

Deon Davids has kept faith by and large with the players who faced Leinster Rugby, a statement from the head coach for his charges to make amends for last weekend, a chance for the players to secure that elusive first league win. Banda comes into the back line while Lerm slots into the number eight jersey.

Dragons by contrast have made six changes to the starting lineup in a bid to secure a long elusive Guinness Pro 14 win. Exciting Ashton Hewitt returns to the back three. Jarryd Sage partners Jack Dixon in the three quarters, a chance for Sage to impress against his former club. Sarel Pretorius is selected at nine. Flankers Harri Keddie and Ollie Griffiths return to the starting lineup.

Bernard Jackman’s charges endured a miserable defeat at the hands of Edinburgh Rugby at Eugene Cross Park. Dragons never threatened a result until the last quarter when Landman scored a try to make it a three point game but Edinburgh responded emphatically with two late tries, securing the bonus point.

This is an incredibly tough game to call. Southern Kings cannot be as bad as they were last weekend but how much can they improve in one week? Their overall performance was appalling at times. Dragons on the other hand despite losing league fixtures have shown good flashes of play and being competitive for long periods.

Something is telling me that the Southern Kings’ first league win has arrived in a tight encounter. Kings in home confines will raise their game and their home performances have being decent for good periods of play. Dragons lack of game management to close out this contest will be exposed yet again.

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The other league fixture looks like a daunting challenge for everyone concerned with Connacht Rugby. Bloemfontein is a fortress for the Toyota Cheetahs who will be thankful for home comforts this weekend given their recent European road trip results.

The altitude factor will be particularly hard for the Irish province in the final quarter as the Toyota Cheetahs will continue to play an expansive uptempo style, looking for defensive gaps with quick passing, running lines and deft kicks in behind. Barry has being prominent in his try scoring count this season and with Francois Venter at thirteen, good things with ball in hand are not too far away.

Cheetahs secured a bonus point try performance last weekend to the Ospreys but were pipped late on for the win. A critical loss in the context of the playoff race and gives Munster Rugby a little breathing space in second after their win over Glasgow Warriors last weekend.

Connacht Rugby restored much needed morale and confidence with a hard fought road trip win to the improving Benetton Rugby in round sixteen. The performance was solid which was in stark contrast to the display delivered against Zebre Rugby in round fifteen.

The word consistency is a keynote term for Connacht Rugby this season. Just when you think that they have turned the corner, they produce a miserable performance like the one against Zebre Rugby. It is very hard to gauge how Connacht Rugby will go here truth be told. The hope is that the touring party will be fully focused on this tour of South Africa.

Connacht Rugby on their day can beat anyone; their expansive play aided by a mobile, abrasive front five can cause opposition plenty of issues. Carty at ten will be a pivotal figure in this fixture, His game management will need to be on point; choosing when to kick deep and when to launch his three quarters where Tom Farrell will look to impress.

The downside for Connacht Rugby is that this comes in the middle of the Natwest 6 Nations tournament. Aki, Marmion are unavailable for selection and are big absentees when faced with a trip to Bloemfontein. Connacht’s best bet here is to earn a loser bonus point or more conceivably a bonus point try point.

This contest should provide some scintillating phases of play. Both sides will look to establish an expansive style of play early. The Toyota Cheetahs need this win to restore confidence but also to conceivably eliminate Connacht Rugby from the playoff picture. Toyota Cheetahs aided by Francois Venter (if selected) should have too much for Connacht Rugby here with a decisive final quarter burst. A bonus point try win is not out of the question.