Pro14: Cheetahs vs Zebre Preview

Rugby player offloads

We preview the Pro14 clash between the Cheetahs and Zebre to be played at the Toyota Stadium on 16 September. 

For the first time this Pro14 season, the Cheetahs enter a fixture as favourites; and they certainly won’t want to let the bookies down (or their fans for that matter) against arguably one of the weakest outfits in the tournament.

Both of these teams come off two consecutive losses in the opening two rounds, but Zebre sit one place ahead of their South African counterparts on points difference in Conference A. The Cheetahs can get off the bottom with a win in the City of Roses this weekend.

Cheetahs vs Zebre | Saturday 16 September 2017 | Toyota Stadium, Bloemfontein | 20h30

To Win (80 Mins)
Cheetahs 1/50, Draw 42/1, Zebre 11/1

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Considering they next host the mighty Leinster, the Free Staters will be desperate to give their fans something to cheer about in advance. The last fortnight has seen Rory Duncan’s charges lose 19-42 and then 18-51 to Ulster and Munster respectively; on their way to conceding the most points (93) in the competition to date.

While the Cheetahs’ willingness to attack was as evident as ever in those two clashes, their defence was expectedly dreadful. The South Africans would have known before the competition commenced that sides in Europe place huge emphasis on the set-piece, as well as a territorially-based defensive game. The sooner the Cheetahs realize that they cannot play every game with reckless, attacking abandon, the sooner their results will steadily start to improve.

Zebre offer the Free Staters a rare shot at a win. The Italians will be expected to lose in Bloemfontein, and the Cheetahs really cannot afford to let such an opportunity slip through their paws. The centre-pairing of William Small-Smith and Francois Venter, on the latter’s return to the side, added some much-needed class to the starting XV. Venter’s offload to Small-Smith just seconds into the second-stanza allowed the youngster to sprint 60m to score an electrifying try. If the Cheetahs find a way to improve their tactical intelligence without losing their clear attacking spark, they will only get better.

Irishman Michael Bradley has only been in his capacity as head coach of Zebre for a few months, and so should not be expected to have worked miracles on one of the weaker Pro14 teams in such a short period of time. The Parma-based club, which only entered the competition in 2012-13, has never finished in the top-10; indeed, their best showing was an 11th-place effort two-seasons ago. For such a new club in a football-mad country where rugby very much takes a backseat, it’s easy to understand why.

Zebre have never played a South African franchise in South Africa, and may experience growing pains in their first encounter; although ex-Lion Derek Minnie, who plays at eighthman for the club, may provide them with some valuable information. With Saturday’s high expected to be close to 29°c in Bloemfontein, the Italians may struggle to assert their game-plan on their hosts – who will thrive off of such conditions.

Verdict: Cheetahs 1/50
The Cheetahs really should get the “W” at home this weekend against such a poor side. While their defence and set-piece remains questionable, playing in Bloemfontein will offer them a shot at forcing their natural game on their Italian visitors – expect more running rugby from the Free Staters this Saturday.

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Written by Shaun Goosen for

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