Toyota Cheetahs captain Ruan Pienaar believes his side will back their “skill-set” in the Northern Hemisphere as they kick off a three week PRO14 Rugby tour in Ireland against Connacht on Saturday.
While the Cheetahs have been the pace-setters in the competition, scoring 22 tries in three games under coach Franco Smith, this will be the first game under new coach Hawies Fourie, who has already indicated that the team will be more circumspect in the way they approach the heavier, softer fields in both Ireland and Wales.
But Pienaar, who spent several seasons guiding Ulster in the competition, knows all too well what the Cheetahs will face and the team will rely heavily on his experience going into the contest. Pienaar believes while the team need to box clever, there is no reason why their expansive play cannot work up north.
“It’s a tough place to go to, weather-wise it is changing and we have had great conditions so far in the tournament, so it is something we have to get used to. We have had a chat and we believe we can back our skill-set in the conditions and still play the game we want to play to put teams under pressure,” Pienaar said on the tour.
“Connacht is a really good team and they haven’t lost a lot of players to World Cup duty. They have continuity in their selection and have started well this season. It will be a big challenge but that is what a tour is for, you have to challenge yourself against the best. It is a tough one first up though and we are looking forward to getting over there and getting started.”
Pienaar indicated that while the coaching team will guide them in the game, he and the senior group will be given the responsibility to decide when the attack is on, to kick off the three-week tour with a positive result.
“We’ve trained well this week. The coaches have put things in place for whatever we face. We will be well-balanced and know when to attack and when to kick. Everyone knows what is expected from them and as senior players, we will read the conditions and decide on the field what is best. Hopefully, we can make the right decisions more often than not. This is a young group that likes touring and it is important on a three-week tour to try and start well and set the tone for the rest of the tour.”
Connacht Head Coach Andy Friend said “The Cheetahs have been impressive in their opening three games and have three bonus points on the board so we will have to be at our best against them. But we have a had a really good start to the season as well, with two wins from our opening three games so fans can expect an exciting game on Saturday evening”.
Commenting on his team selection he added; “Unfortunately we have to plan without Tiernan O’Halloran and Paddy McAllister until December but I have always said that this block of thirteen games in a row was going to require real depth in our squad. We have picked a matchday 23 targeting a home win.”
Benetton v Isuzu Southern Kings, Date: Saturday, 26 October, Kickoff: 16h00
Connacht team: 15. Stephen Fitzgerald, 14. Niyi Adeolokun, 13. Kyle Godwin, 12. Peter Robb, 11. John Porch, 10. Conor Fitzgerald, 9. Kieran Marmion, 8. Paul Boyle, 7. Jarrad Butler (C), 6. Eoghan Masterson, 5. Quinn Roux, 4. Gavin Thornbury, 3. Finlay Bealham, 2. Tom McCartney, 1. Denis Buckley. Replacements: 16. Dave Heffernan, 17. Matthew Burke, 18. Dominic Robertson-McCoy, 19. Ultan Dillane, 20. Cillian Gallagher, 21. Caolin Blade, 22. Tom Farrell, 23. Darragh Leader.
Toyota Cheetahs team: 15. Rhyno Smith, 14. Clayton Blommetjies, 13. Dries Swanepoel, 12. Benhard Janse van Rensburg, 11. Anthony Volmink, 10. Tian Schoeman, 9. Ruan Pienaar (C), 8. Jasper Wiese, 7. Junior Pokomela, 6. Gerhard Olivier, 5. Walt Steenkamp, 4. Sintu Manjezi, 3. Aranos Coetzee, 2. Joseph Dweba, 1. Ox Nche. Replacements: 16. Wilmar Arnoldi, 17. Boan Venter, 18. Luan de Bruin, 19. JP du Preez, 20. Sias Koen, 21. Tian Meyer, 22. George Whitehead, 23. William Small-Smith.