The new PRO14 campaign may be in its infancy but for the Cheetahs their clash with Munster this evening (kick-off 5.15pm) has a real end-of-season feel to it in Bloemfontein.
The overlapping of the northern and southern hemisphere seasons creates its own difficulties for the two South African sides in the PRO14.
This evening’s match is being billed as the last home game of the year at Toyota Stadium and it is also the final game in which Franco Smith takes charge before his move to Italy.
Both teams have 10 points from their opening two games. The Cheetahs, who don’t have a home PRO14 game again until next February, have achieved that in their own backyard at altitude, their 48-14 thumping of Glasgow Warriors followed up with a 63-26 hammering of Ulster last weekend.
That’s 111 points in two games and with Munster having chalked up 70 in their 39-9 win over the Dragons and 31-20 against the Kings, something will have to give in Bloemfontein this evening.
Coping with the threat of the Cheetahs out wide will be a key factor for Johann van Graan and his men, not least after seeing the explosive speed of winger Anthony Volmink on his way to a hat-trick against Ulster last weekend.
But Munster, despite having 12 players in Japan, have looked a polished outfit in their opening two games as they pulled away from the Dragons and the Kings to secure bonus point wins.
Promising lock Fineen Wycherley, who makes his 25th appearance for Munster this evening, said that lads have made the most of their opportunity during the World Cup.
“We are all getting a chance which is good. We are obviously delighted for the lads to get their opportunities over in Japan and hopefully they go well,” said the 21-year old.
There are 12 lads gone so there 12 places needed to be filled. Everyone has done exceptionally well so far. They have got a few games to showcase the work that they have done over in pre-season.
“We have been lucky with injuries as well. There is plenty of competition.”
Van Graan has made five changes for this clash with an in-form Cheetahs outfit steered by former Ulster scrum-half Ruan Pienaar.
The two changes in the backline are both at half-back where summer signing from Leinster Nick McCarthy is paired with Tyler Bleyendaal.
Up front, van Graan gives Jeremy Loughman a start at loosehead prop alongside hooker Rhys Marshall, while Billy Holland adds his considerable experience to Wycherley’s dynamism in the second row.
Munster may have won on both their previous visits to Bloemfontein but Cheetahs full-back Rhyno Smyth, who has scored four tries in their two games, hopes to continue their brilliant start to the season.
“I expect them to be a well-trained, well-oiled machine,” said Smyth.
“You know what is coming, and you know you have to handle the aerial ball well. But if they are going to kick we are going to have to make them pay,” he said.
R Smith; W Small-Smith, B Janse van Rensburg, L Fouche, A Volmink; T Schoeman, R Pienaar; O Nche, J Dweba, L de Bruin; S Manjezi, W Steenkamp; G Olivier, J Pokomela, H Venter.
R Venter, B Venter, N Fouche, JP du Preez, S Koen, J Wiese, T Meyer, C Blommetjies.
M Haley; D Sweetnam, D Goggin, R Scannell, S Daly; T Bleyendaal, N McCarthy; J Loughman, R Marshall, S Archer; F Wycherley, B Holland; J O’Donoghue, T O’Donnell, A Botha.
K O’Byrne, J Cronin, K Knox, D O’Shea, G Coombes, A Mathewson, JJ Hanrahan, C Nash.