SA Rugby’s Director of Rugby, Rassie Erasmus, has labelled the Guinness PRO14 as “one of the toughest I have ever coached in” on the eve of the start of the 2019/20 Championship, which kicks off on Friday in Bloemfontein.
Erasmus may be guiding his Bok side at the Rugby World Cup in Japan currently, but he will have one eye on the Guinness PRO14 as it kicks off this weekend with two local games in South Africa and much expectation for the Toyota Cheetahs and the Isuzu Southern Kings.
The Toyota Cheetahs’ first match is a visit to Bloemfontein by last year’s runners-up, the Glasgow Warriors from Scotland (kick-off at 19h05), while the Isuzu Southern Kings host the Cardiff Blues in Port Elizabeth on Saturday (kick-off at 16h00).
The men from Bloemfontein have not yet beaten the Warriors since they joined the competition, with the Glaswegians winning all four previous clashes between the sides. Ditto for the Isuzu Southern Kings, who have lost both their previous encounters against the Blues.
Erasmus knows the challenges of the Guinness PRO14 well – he was in charge of Munster in the 2016/17 season, where he led the Irish side to a final appearance after topping the group with 19 victories in the regular season.
“One thing that people underestimate about Guinness PRO14 rugby is that it is one of the toughest competitions, certainly one of the toughest that I have coached in,” Erasmus said.
“It compares on all levels to Vodacom Super Rugby because it is physical, it is tactical, and you are faced with different styles every weekend. You have to contend with different travel times, different weather and different pitches – sometimes even 4G pitches.”
“So it is such an adaptation and you have to analyse every single week. It is not like Super Rugby where you come up against teams that generally play a similar style of rugby.”
Erasmus said the competition is a challenge for coaches because of the contrasting styles and cultures from the different nations.
“It is not always a high-pace X-factor thing, it is sometimes a Glasgow ball-in-hand style, then Ulster are very different, and Leinster are very different in another way. You have to do a lot of analysis and it is interesting and challenging.
“And that’s where players really grow and take ownership of the game. Which eventually makes them better players.”
The teams for this weekend’s matches will be named at a later stage.
Toyota Cheetahs v Glasgow Warriors
Date: Friday, 27 September
SA time: 19h05
Venue: Toyota Stadium, Bloemfontein
Referee: Dan Jones
Assistant referees: Ben Crouse, Griffin Colby
TMO: Lourens van der Merwe
Isuzu Southern Kings v Cardiff Blues
Date: Saturday, 28 September
SA time: 16h00
Venue: Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth
Referee: Mike Adamson
Assistant referees: Divan Uys, Paul Mente
TMO: Christie du Preez
Other Round 1 matches (SA kick-off times):
Friday, 27 September:
20h35: Ulster v Ospreys – Kingspan Stadium, Belfast
Saturday, 28 September:
16h00: Munster v Dragons – Thomond Park, Limerick
18h15: Scarlets v Connacht – Parc y Scarlets, Llanelli
18h15: Benetton v Leinster – Stadio Monigo, Treviso
20h35: Edinburgh v Zebre – BT Murrayfield, Edinburgh