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 off 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, in order 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 off well and set the tone for the rest of the tour.”
The Isuzu Southern Kings will also start a three week journey and will be looking more to improve their own performances in conditions that should ideally support their pack when they take on Benetton in Treviso on Saturday.
The Kings have conceded the least penalties in the championship and back it up with the best lineout stats in the tournament, and coach Robbie Kempson believes if they can now use these strengths to turn possession into points they will do well.
“This tour is going to be very important for us. We are getting ourselves in positions and creating opportunities but we are not converting them,” Kempson said.
“I think we have lost one lineout in total and our scrum has been solid but we haven’t been dominant, and that is something we have to work on. The conversion of our driving mauls – yes we have had one or two calls go against us – but we need to convert, especially if we are kicking to the corner and not taking the three points. That is another aspect of our play we will be looking at in the next three weeks.”
Benetton Rugby v Isuzu Southern Kings
Stadio Monigo, Treviso
Referee: Dan Jones (WRU, 27th Championship appearance)
AR1: Marius Mitrea (FIR) AR2: Dai Cambourne (WRU)
TMO: Tim Hayes (WRU)
Live on Supersport 2
Connacht v Toyota Cheetahs
The Sportsground, Galway
Referee: Ben Whitehouse (WRU, 61st Championship appearance)
AR1: Sean Gallagher (IRFU) AR2: Gwyn Morris (WRU)
TMO: Sean Brickell (IRFU)
Live on Supersport 2