Explained: What’s been happening in the Pro14?

Joseph Dweba of the Toyota Cheetahs during the Guinness Pro14 match between Toyota Cheetahs and Munster at Toyota Stadium on October 11, 2019 in Bloemfontein, South Africa. (Photo Johan Pretorius/Gallo Images)

The Cheetahs have been thrillingly setting the pace in this year’s tournament as they exploit the World Cup void, but the Kings’ struggles remain familiar.

As the Springboks marched to the quarterfinals of the Rugby World Cup, the Cheetahs and Southern Kings quietly got their respective Pro14 campaigns off the ground.

Now in its third season, expectations have been raised for the two local franchises to start winning more consistently as they’re now familiar with the challenges of the tournament.

The Cheetahs have taken that call seriously, flying out of the blocks, but the Kings’ struggles remain.

Here’s an explainer to bring you up to speed on what’s been happening.

The Cheetahs top the log, don’t they?

Franco Smith – who’s delayed his Italian gig to cover for the previously ill Hawies Fourie – has indeed masterminded a superb start. The Cheetahs are indeed in first place in conference A, where they’ve claimed a maximum 15 log points from three games.

They’ve scored the most points (151) and tries (22), but have defending champions Leinster snapping at their heels.

Nonetheless, it’s been a superb three weeks for the men from Bloemfontein, who memorably humbled Ulster 63-26.

But the Kings haven’t been on the same level?

The Port Elizabeth-based franchise have wasted the platform of having three home games to start with. There was a gusty 27-31 reverse to Cardiff Blues, but they were comfortably beaten by Munster and Ulster, leaving them bottom of conference B.

Swys de Bruin has joined them now though?

The 59-year-old suddenly departed from the Lions last weekend, ending a seven-year stay at the three-time Super Rugby finalists.

However, on Friday, the Kings confirmed that De Bruin’s first gig as a “coaching consultant” will be with them, a role that will last the whole season.

“Swys is one of the most respected and sought-after coaches in South Africa. His vast knowledge of the game and international experience will be of great value to our team,” said Kings chairman Loyiso Dotwana.

Who are the players that have starred for the Cheetahs to date?

Rhyno Smith of the Toyota Cheetahs during the Guinness Pro 14 match between Toyota Cheetahs and Ulster at Toyota Stadium on October 05, 2019 in Bloemfontein, South Africa. (Photo by Johan Pretorius/Gallo Images)

Given their attacking approach, it’s not surprising that it’s their explosive runners that have excelled.

Fullback Rhyno Smith tops the try-scoring charts after three rounds with five tries, one ahead of teammate and hooker Joseph Dweba.

Winger Anthony Volminck’s three tries also feature on the chart with flanker Junior Pokomela grabbing a mention with two.

The Kings haven’t been all that bad, right?

JC Astle of the Southern Kings during the Guinness Pro14 match between Isuzu Southern Kings and Ulster at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium on September 16, 2018 in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. (Photo by Michael Sheehan/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

Well, in the end, it’s only results that count. Yet acting head coach Robbi Kempson does have something to work with.

When it comes to the set-piece, the Southern Kings reign supreme, taking 96.15% of their lineouts and losing just 0.7% of their lineouts per game.

The Kings’ may be struggling a bit to close games out, but their setpiece is one of their assets.

They are also the team that infringes the least in the competition, averaging just seven penalties per game, with Cardiff Blues the worst at almost 13 per game.

The Kings also have the most possession of any team, averaging 19 minutes of ball in play per game, more than any other side in the competition and underlining Kempson’s view that the team is improving. But they need to find a way to turn possession into points.

But the real test starts now?

It does. Both franchises now depart for three-week tours. The slower conditions in the UK are certainly going to test the viability of the Cheetahs’ expansive approach in particular.

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