Connacht will feel the heat as they chase points from Cheetahs
Experience needed as South African side have lost only one match at home this season
Sean O’Brien and Ultan Dillane of Connacht training in Bloemfontein, South Africa. Photograph: Frikkie Kapp/Inpho
Cheetahs v Connacht
Toyota Stadium (5.35pm, Irish time, live on Sky Sports)
Connacht demonstrated character in eking out a late victory away to Zebre in their last match in the Guinness Pro14, and will have to demonstrate similar resolve if they are to upset a Cheetahs side that has lost just one match at home this season.
Ireland international Ultan Dillane starts in the secondrow alongside James Cannon, while centre Pita Ahki – he leaves the province at the end of the season when his short-term contract expires – is the only other alteration to the side which won in Italy.
The Cheetahs lost all three matches on their recent excursion to Wales and Scotland, and will be looking to avenge a loss they suffered at Connacht’s hands earlier in the season.
Temperatures of 30 degrees underline a significant challenge that the Irish province face in the heat, albeit with a night-time kickoff locally (7.25pm, South Africa time) it is eased somewhat.
There is plenty of experience in the Connacht eight, with Finlay Bealham, Dillane and captain John Muldoon boasting test match experience, while the back three of Tiernan O’Halloran, Cian Kelleher and Matt Healy can cause plenty of problems for the hosts given a reasonable platform.
The Cheetahs play an expansive, ball-in-hand game, so any loose kicking will be punished, something to which Connacht’s head coach Kieran Keane alluded.
“I think everyone is familiar with their style of play. They play some really exciting and attacking rugby. They played like that when they came to the Sportsground, and they were hard to beat.
“They are even harder to beat when they are playing at home, and only one team has managed it since they joined the Pro14. It’s a massive challenge, but one we relish. We will be focusing on our game plan and what we can control, and hopefully delivering a winning performance.”
This is the tougher of the two games Connacht play in South Africa, and extracting anything in the form of points from this match would be a bonus.
CHEETAHS: C Blommetjies; C Barry, F Venter (capt), N Lee, L Obi; N Marais, Z Mkhabela; O Nche, T van Jaarsveld, J Coetzee; J Basson, R Hugo; P Schoeman, H Venter, U Cassiem. Replacements: J du Toit, C Marais, T Botha, R Bernardo, O Mohoje, T Meyer, F Zeilinga, S Maxano.
CONNACHT: T O’Halloran; C Kelleher, E Griffin, P Ahki, M Healy; J Carty, C Blade; D Buckley, T McCartney, F Bealham; U Dillane, J Cannon; S O’Brien, J Butler, J Muldoon. Replacements: S Delahunt, D Coulson, D Roberston McCoy, G Thornbury, E Masterson, J Mitchell, C Ronaldson, N Adeolokun.
Referee: S Berry (South Africa)