Cape Town - The Southern Kings and Cheetahs will both have a point to prove in their second PRO14 season, which kicks off this weekend with the first of 21 pool rounds.
While the Eastern Cape side will be determined to improve on their debut season, in which they won only one of 21 matches, the Cheetahs will have their sights set on progressing to the semi-finals after going down in the qualifiers last season.
The Southern Kings will kick off their campaign against Italy’s Zebre at Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi in Parma on Friday evening (20:35 SA time), while the Cheetahs will meet Irish powerhouse Munster in Limerick at 18:15 (SA time) on Saturday.
In Italy, the Southern Kings will be expecting a tough challenge from Zebre, who apart from finishing strongly last season with three successive victories, defeated them 43-17 in Port Elizabeth. With a new sponsor in Isuzu, and the team well aware of what to expect in the competition this season, they take to the field highly motivated.
The clash between the Cheetahs and 2017/18 semi-finalists, Munster, is expected to be gripping, especially with two former Springbok assistant coaches at the helm, in Franco Smith and Johann van Graan respectively.
The fact that the Irish outfit includes a number South African squad members, such as Arno Botha, Jaco Taute, CJ Stander and Chris Cloete, it is expected to spice up the clash.
The Free Staters will draw inspiration from their heart-breaking 19-17 defeat against Munster in their last outing in Bloemfontein in April. However, they will be under no illusions about the challenge that awaits as Munster have only suffered one defeat at home since February 2017, while they also registered a convincing 51-18 victory against the Cheetahs at Thomond Park last year.
PRO14 Round 1 fixtures:
Southern Kings v Zebre Rugby Club
Date: Friday, August 31
SA time: 20:35
Venue: Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi, Parma
Referee: Mike Adamson (SRU)
Assistant referees: Keith Allen (SRU), Manuel Bottini (FIR)
TMO: Stefano Penne (FIR)
TV: SuperSport 1
Southern Kings touring squad:
Forwards: Tango Balekile, Schalk Ferreira, Justin Forwood, Lupumlo Mguca, Xandre Vos, Alandre van Rooyen, Mike Willemse, Luvuyo Pupuma, Schalk Oelofse, JC Astle, Bobby de Wee, Henry Brandon Brown, Stephan de Wit, Martinus Burger, Ruaan Lerm, Andisa Ntsila.
Backs: Masixole Banda, Bjorn Basson, Ulrich Beyers, Michael Botha, Berton, Martin du Toit, Klaasen, Harlon Klaasen, Michael Makase, Godlen Masimla, Yaw Penxe, Rudi van Rooyen.
Cheetahs v Munster
Date: Saturday, September 1
SA time: 18:15
Venue: Thomond Park, Limerick
Referee: Dan Jones (WRU)
Assistant referees: Craig Evans (WRU), Mark Patton (IRFU)
TMO: Simon McDowell (IRFU)
TV: SuperSport 1
Cheetahs touring squad:
Forwards: Ox Nche, Erich de Jager, Charles Marais, Joseph Dweba, Jacques du Toit, Marnus van der Merwe, Luan de Bruin, Aranos Coetzee, Justin Basson, JP du Preez, Walt Steenkamp, Junior Pokomela, Oupa Mohoje.
Backs: Aidon Davis, Jasper Wiese, Shaun Venter, Tian Meyer, Ruben de Haas, Tian Schoeman, Ernst Stapelberg, William Small-Smith, Nico Lee, Benhard Janse van Rensburg, Rabz Maxwane, Malcolm Jaer, Ryno Eksteen
Other Round 1 action (SA kick-off times):
Friday, August 31:
20:35 - Cardiff Blues v Leinster Rugby, Cardiff Arms Park, Cardiff
20:35 - Ospreys Rugby v Edinburgh Rugby, Liberty Stadium, Swansea
Saturday, September 1:
16:00 - Connacht Rugby v Glasgow Warriors, The Sportsground, Galway
18:15 - Ulster Rugby v Scarlets, Kingspan Stadium, Belfast
20:35 - Dragons v Benetton Rugby, Rodney Parade, Newport