The recent surrendering of their place in the play-off bracket has made it critical for the Toyota Cheetahs to end their PRO14 Rugby tour on a winning note but apart from their Dragons opponents they are going to have deal with the obstacle placed in their way by Storm Jorge.
The latest weather system to hit Ireland and the UK is due to make landfall on Saturday and in some places winds gusting between 150 to 200 km an hour are anticipated as well as heavy rain.
According to Cheetahs coach Hawies Fourie the ground at Newport where Saturday night’s game will be played is already so wet and muddy that it is doubtful his team will be allowed to go there for the usual pre-match captain’s practice.
The Cheetahs have encountered some pretty inclement conditions already on their northern hemisphere trips in their current campaign but Fourie fears the conditions for this game could be a case of “you ain’t seen nothing yet” as the predictions are particularly dire.
“These will definitely be the toughest conditions we have encountered so far,” said Fourie, who watched his team lose to Leinster in a Dublin downpour two weeks ago.
“In addition to rain, a huge wind is expected, and the field is already wet. It doesn’t look like we are going to be allowed onto the field before the game. So in addition to the strong wind, the game is also 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. If we can’t train at the match venue we will look for an alternative field in Cardiff to train on. It isn’t ideal, but there’s not much you can do about it.”
The reason this is such an important game for the Cheetahs is because the Warriors have moved three points ahead of them into third place in Conference A. The top three teams advance to the play-offs. The positive aspect for the Cheetahs this weekend is that the Warriors will be away to Leinster, who are unbeaten and will be overwhelming favourites to win.
That means a win over the Dragons, who under normal circumstances would start as underdogs against the Cheetahs because they are 13 points behind them on the table, should leapfrog the Cheetahs back into the play-off bracket ahead of a run of home games.
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The Cheetahs do have a massive advantage at home because of the heat and the altitude, but they will want to return with the edge over the Warriors that a win in Newport will give them. They will know by kick-off if they are playing for third place as the Leinster/Warriors game is to be played on Friday night.
The Cheetahs’ task has been further skewed by the suspension served on ace loose-forward Jasper Wiese for dangerous play against Ulster. Wiese is out for four weeks. Chris Massyn is also out with an injury so Fourie has to make two changes to his back row, with Aidon Davids and Gerhard Olivier coming in.
While the Cheetahs will be disadvantaged by the conditions, the Isuzu Southern Kings will be looking forward to getting reacquainted with their own conditions when they host Connacht at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium on Sunday. While pleased to be home though, their coach Robbi Kempson doesn’t believe that the Eastern Cape conditions disadvantages visiting teams as much as his team is disadvantaged when they go overseas.
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“If we had 35 degrees heat here then it would favour us, but the weather is much milder at the coast,” said Kempson.
“It is much more difficult travelling there. The guys really didn’t appreciate the weather the last time they were there. It was particularly bad. But we play in a northern hemisphere competition so we just have to learn to adapt to the conditions.”
Kempson reckons his team’s best performance of the season was the away loss to Connacht so he’s anticipating a good match against what he considers a formidable team that will be smarting from last week’s unexpectedly big loss to Edinburgh.
“It was our best performance but they still managed to get one over us. Andy Friend is an excellent coach, 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.”
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