Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

The Cheetahs will go into their PRO14 debut without a recognised flyhalf, with regular fullback Clayton Blommetjies starting in the No10 jersey against Ulster in Belfast on Friday.

Coach Rory Duncan had little choice with regular flyhalves Fred Zeilinga and Niel Marais on the long-term injury list.

Ryno Eksteen‚ who has started in the Currie Cup‚ will continue in that competition.

Friday night’s game at the Kingspan Stadium in Belfast‚ which recently hosted the Women’s Rugby World Cup final‚ marks the beginning of a new era for South African and European Rugby.

Duncan said he was excited to see how his team would fare against European opposition.

"The thing that makes me excited, and the players as well, is going in and being able to see how we compare to the northern hemisphere," Duncan said.

"Ulster is an exciting fixture to start with and then obviously going to Limerick as well.

"They are two tough fixtures to start the competition with. We’re going to face everyone so we may as well get them out of the way first."

The inclusion of the Cheetahs and Southern Kings into the tournament could also be the beginning of a path that would allow more teams from SA into the northern hemisphere market in the coming years. PRO14 has ambitions to continue to expand its footprint and if the Cheetahs and Kings experiment proves successful‚ there would be an appetite for more teams from SA.

SA Rugby CE Jurie Roux made it clear that SA still values its partners in SA‚ New Zealand‚ Australia and Argentina Rugby (Sanzaar), but nothing could be ruled out.

"We are committed to Sanzaar and we have an agreement until 2020‚" Roux said. "We are going into a negotiation period for the next phase and we will make decisions then.

"However‚ we believe we are strong because we play against New Zealand and Australia all the time. That relationship has been to the great benefit of South African rugby for more than 20 years. They are our partners and we don’t foresee not playing against New Zealand and Australia in the future‚ but what we do have is an opportunity to expand our competitions and horizons and we are trying to take that opportunity.

"We might come out with a different structure in the future‚ but not playing in the south in any shape or form is unthinkable because financially we would suffer," Roux said.

The Kings make their debut against the Scarlets in Llanelli on Saturday fielding a team that will again have to rebuild after a strong Super Rugby campaign.

Coach Deon Davids only has 10 survivors from Super Rugby but is still upbeat about his team’s prospects against the defending champions.

"We had to have a look at them – they are the champion side‚" he said.

"They have strength all over in their team and are a team that like to play with ball in hand. They are quite dangerous if you concede turnovers against them‚ and they have quite a good set piece," Davids said.

"It would be stupid to underestimate a team that remain the reigning champions of the competition. We need to be spot on‚ we need to be focused and we need to be switched on.

"We need to be ready to face whatever comes our way. We need not be afraid to impose ourselves in terms of what we need to do."

TimesLIVE

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