After a solid opening victory over the Ospreys last weekend, Ulster embark on a mini South African tour in rounds two and three of the Guinness PRO14.
The teams are out for the first of those matches against Ruan Pienaar’s Cheetahs with Dan McFarland making just one change – new signing Bill Johnson replacing Billy Burns at out half.
Jack McGrath, Rob Herring and Tom O’Toole make up the front row with Herring taking the captains armband in Iain Henderson’s absence. Kieran Treadwell and Sam Carter impressed in the row last week and get another shot tomorrow. Jordi Murphy was withdrawn from last week’s match before kick off due to Jack Conan’s injury in Japan with Greg Jones taking his spot. Jones remains at 8 with Matthew Rea and Sean Reidy on the flanks.
John Cooney will provide a calm head beside the former Ireland U20 international at scrum half. James Hume and Luke Marshall are named outside Johnson in the centres while Rob Lyttle, Craig Gilroy and Matt Faddes will be hoping to add a few tries in what will be a fast paced outing.
Last week’s result was exactly what was needed and while improvement can be made in the performance, it presents a solid starting platform for Dan McFarland. The Cheetahs had a similar start, cruising past last season’s runners up, Glasgow Warriors.
Pienaar announced himself to the Cheetahs with an early try in what was a dominant performance from the Bloemfontein side. Powerful carrier Joseph Dweba added two tries while new signing Rhyno Smith contributed with a brace of scores.
Games between Ulster and the Cheetahs are always high scoring affairs: the first meeting in 2017 ended 42-19 in favour of the hosts while a last minute Henry Speight try allowed Billy Burns to grab a draw last season on the Highveld. I can’t see this match being any different.
Not many sides travel to Bloemfontein and leave with a win. I think it’ll be tough for McFarland and co and would certainly take a try bonus point and losing bonus point as a result. They’re without last season’s top try scorer, Rabz Maxwane, who scored a 50m effort against Ulster in last season’s affair which is a blow, but they showed they could cope last week against the Warriors.
An open game certainly plays into the hands of the Cheetahs. At altitude, the home side have the advantage and have a tendancy to blow away teams if they try to take them on. A game built on set piece would benefit the away side as it would prevent Cheetahs from building momentum. Ulster need to be inside a seven points with 15-20 minutes remaining or else the Cheetahs will threaten to pull away.
The FRU predicts: Realistically, I think it’s going to be tough for Ulster. Cheetahs are a good side especially at home and I think they’ll have enough to see off Ulster. However I do think Ulster have the quality to leave with a try bonus point and/or losing bonus point.
|Rhyno Smith||15||Matt Faddes|
|William Small-Smith||14||Craig Gilroy|
|Benhard Janse van Rensburg||13||Luke Marshall|
|Dries Swanepoel||12||James Hume|
|Anthony Volmink||11||Rob Lyttle|
|Tian Schoeman||10||Bill Johnston|
|Ruan Pienaar||9||John Cooney|
|Ox Nche||1||Jack McGrath|
|Joseph Dweba||2||Rob Herring|
|Enrich de Jager||3||Tom O’Toole|
|Sintu Manjezi||4||Kieran Treadwell|
|Walt Steenkamp||5||Sam Carter|
|Gerhard Olivier||6||Matthew Rea|
|Junior Pokomela||7||Sean Reidy|
|Henco Venter||8||Greg Jones|
|Reinach Venter||16||John Andrew|
|Boan Venter||17||Eric O’Sullivan|
|Neethling Fouche||18||Ross Kane|
|JP du Preez||19||Alan O’Connor|
|Sias Koen||20||Clive Ross|
|Jasper Wiese||21||Dave Shanahan|
|Tian Meyer||22||Michael Lowry|
|Louis Fouche||23||Louis Ludik|