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'I know them really, really well. Some of them were my best men and organised the wedding'

Rassie Erasmus welcomes old friends to Thomond Park later as Munster look to tame the Cheetahs.

Image: Billy Stickland/INPHO

BY THE TIME the reverse fixture of this tie is played in Bloemfontein next April, Rassie Erasmus’ foot will be in the opposite camp, but for now his focus is on ensuring the Cheetahs don’t board the flight home with a major scalp to their name.

The Munster director of rugby will come up against old friends at Thomond Park this evening [KO 5.15pm, TG4] having both played for and coached the Cheetahs, as the southern province return to the Limerick venue for the first time this season.

A comfortable bonus-point victory over Treviso on the opening weekend was a gentle start to the campaign for Erasmus’ current side but this evening’s challenge should be far stiffer, even though last week’s evidence from Kingspan Stadium suggests the hosts should have too much for the South Africans.

The Cheetahs thrilled the Belfast crowd for the opening 20 minutes on their Guinness Pro14 debut as their risk-reward style of play initially yielded high dividends before they ultimately fell away to leak six tries.

Rory Duncan’s side have worked on the areas which cost them last week, most notably their defence and the breakdown but even allowing for the return of Springbok Francois Venter, a historic visit to Thomond should prove too big of a step up at this early stage of the season.

Although Erasmus, who began his long goodbye to Munster last week, knows better than most the threat the Cheetahs carry across the park.

“They would love it, yes. I am good friends with them, really good friends with all of them,” he said, when asked if the South Africans would love to cause a major upset.

Rory Duncan Cheetahs coach Rory Duncan. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“It will be a really tough challenge. When I leave Munster, I would love to leave here in the way I left the Cheetahs. When I spoke to the guys last game when they arrive here it is my close friends, guys who were at my wedding, some of them were my best men, some of them organised the wedding, so I know them really, really well. That is what I am saying, when I leave Munster and they are coming (to South Africa) next April, that is the way I would want to be with Munster.

“It is exciting. I am so glad. Some of those boys would never have travelled the world, and now I am coaching against them here. It is not emotional. It is nice, it’s nice.

“I can tell you so much stories about them, but the head coach, I coached him, he was the lock in the Currie Cup. His lineout coach was his partner lock. The scrum coach I coached and played with most of those guys and coached most of them.”

Erasmus added that the visitors’ unpredictable style of play means it’s hard to know what they’ll bring to the contest later today.

“That is why their name is the Cheetahs,” he continued. “I remember when we had to get a name when we went from Currie Cup rugby to Super Rugby, all the other franchises had names like the Bulls and the Sharks and so on.

“We were the Free State so we had to get a name. Everyone just said ‘Cheetahs’ because they run and they run very fast. That is how they got their name, so they will never change that and it’s exciting.

“Even against Ulster if two or three of those tries stuck for them, it could have been 42-41, that is the way they play rugby. That is what we will face on Saturday. They won’t change.”

Erasmus has made one change to his team for the second outing of the season with Ian Keatley replacing Tyler Bleyendaal in a straight swap at out-half, while Ireland internationals Niall Scannell, Dave Kilcoyne, John Ryan, Rory Scannell and Simon Zebo could all make their first appearance of the campaign from the bench.

Ian Keatley Ian Keatley starts at 10 this evening. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

After solid performances last week, academy forwards Liam O’Connor and Sean O’Connor retain their places in the pack while Billy Holland captains the side.

His opposite number will strengthen the Cheetahs’ backline and Venter’s arrival, as well as adding huge quality in midfield, allows Duncan to field a more familiar half-back pairing after a makeshift combination last week.

“The guys have had a good training week,” the Cheetahs coach said. “We’ve spent a fair amount of time preparing ourselves especially in defence and breakdown. With the anticipation of relatively wet conditions, one or two areas of the game have been adapted to suit the weather circumstances.”

In today’s other Pro14 fixtures, Connacht will be hoping to get their season up and running when they welcome the Southern Kings to Galway [KO 7.35pm, TG4] while Glasgow Warriors face Ospreys [KO 3.15pm, Sky Sports] and Treviso host Ulster [KO 6.05pm, BBC NI] in Italy.

Munster:

15. Andrew Conway
14. Darren Sweetnam
13. Chris Farrell
12. Jaco Taute
11. Alex Wootton
10. Ian Keatley
9. Duncan Williams

1. Liam O’Connor
2. Rhys Marshall
3. Stephen Archer
4. Jean Kleyn
5. Billy Holland (captain)
6. Sean O’Connor
7. Tommy O’Donnell
8. Jack O’Donoghue

Replacements

16. Niall Scannell
17. Dave Kilcoyne
18. John Ryan
19. Fineen Wycherley
20. Robin Copeland
21. James Hart
22. Rory Scannell
23. Simon Zebo

Cheetahs:

15. Clayton Blommetjies
14. Sergeal Petersen
13. Francois Venter (captain)
12. William Small-Smith
11. Makazole Mapimpi
10. Robbie Petzer
9. Shaun Venter

1. Charles Marais
2. Jacques du Toit
3. Johan Coetzee
4. Rynier Bernardo
5. Reniel Hugo
6. Paul Schoeman
7. Henco Venter
8. Niell Jordaan

Replacements

16 .Torsten van Jaarsveld
17. Ox Nche
18. Tom Botha
19. Armandt Koster
20. Gerhard Olivier
21. Tian Meyer
22. Ali Mgijima
23. Ryno Benjamin

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