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Ruan Piennar's Cheetahs are more than footloose and fancy free, warns Ulster coach McFarland


Big return: Ulster’s Craig Gilroy celebrates scoring a try against Ospreys
Big return: Ulster’s Craig Gilroy celebrates scoring a try against Ospreys

By Michael Sadlier

With their opening game neatly secured with a five-pointer, and Jordi Murphy's flight plans having taken him east, Ulster's undivided attention is now on their long-haul trip to South Africa.

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The squad - believed to contain around 28 players - leave tomorrow and play the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein on Saturday before travelling down from altitude to meet Southern Kings seven days later.

This weekend's game at the Cheetahs will, of course, be laden with significance as it means reacquainting with one Ruan Pienaar, who starred for his new club in their bonus-point victory over Glasgow Warriors at the Toyota Stadium.

Indeed, in the immediate aftermath of Friday night's 38-14 bonus-point win over Allen Clarke's Ospreys, Ulster head coach Dan McFarland had already cast his eye over some of the Cheetahs' work in dismantling the Warriors, which had seen Pienaar score 18 points and take the man of the match award.

"Everyone thinks that the Cheetahs are footloose and fancy free, but they've got a set-piece as well," he said. "I've already had a peek and they scored a maul try against Glasgow.

"Last year when we were over there they scored two maul tries against us so that's going to be a big element in the game."

Ulster escaped Bloemfontein last September after snatching a 39-39 draw with the last play of the game, thanks to a Henry Speight try and Billy Burns conversion locking the scores together.

This time, though, McFarland will want to ensure that Ulster get slightly more from their time on the Highveld.

Mind you, he insists that now being in Conference A will have its own challenges with not only Leinster and Glasgow there but also Ulster's next opponents.

"Looking at our side of the Conference with the Cheetahs, Glasgow and Leinster in there, that's tough, but we're up for that challenge. It's (always) important to build momentum," he added of beating the Ospreys and at least starting in a positive manner.

"But the season is a long season.

"We have to finish with enough points for qualifying rugby and along the way various things can hit you, World Cup call-ups, injuries or dips in form."

Ulster also seem likely to pick up an additional squad member out there - ex-Ulster player and now Bulls prop Wiehahn Herbst is the latest rumoured to be in the frame - to provide short-term cover at tighthead prop for the injured Marty Moore.

Marcell Coetzee, whose World Cup hopes with South Africa were dashed by an ankle injury, could also be making a playing return on this trip back home, though McFarland stated that this was still not a certainty.

Overall, the head coach was naturally pleased with Friday night's first PRO14 game and the five points gathered up in defeating the Ospreys.

"On the whole, we worked really hard," he said.

"There were times when it looked as if we had control of the game and then we gave it away through the odd mistake."

As usual there are always things to improve on, though the sight of Craig Gilroy scoring twice was a marvellous return to competitive action after so long away. Matt Faddes also scored on his PRO14 debut and looked encouragingly sharp while Burns' crossfield kicking created both of Gilroy's tries.

It will be a far tougher challenge in Bloemfontein though.

Week one results: Munster 39 Dragons 9;Southern Kings 27 Cardiff Blues 31; Benetton 27 Leinster 32; Scarlets 18 Connacht 10; Edinburgh 50 Zebre 15; Cheetahs 48 Glasgow Warriors 14; Ulster 38 Ospreys 14.

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