Ulster are expecting a fierce challenge when they meet the Toyota Cheetahs on the second leg of their South African mini-tour according to defence coach Jared Payne.
Friday night’s game in Bloemfontein pairs the form side in Guinness PRO14’s Conference B and the side looking to get their season kick-started.
Ulster made it three from three in this year’s campaign after slogging out a 28-7 win over Southern Kings in Port Elizabeth on Sunday.
The Cheetahs, who had lost their first two games on the road, suffered a third straight loss at home, hammered 52-24 by Glasgow.
Ulster may take something from that scoreline going into the game confident as they will be, but Payne was keeping things in check yesterday from the Province’s training base in South Africa.
“They will be smarting all right,” said Payne.
“They were in that game pretty much up to the 60 minute mark before Glasgow pulled away at the end.
“They’re (Cheetahs) a proud team, a pretty tough bunch of forwards and some pretty exciting backs so I imagine there’s going to be a pretty nasty kick back this week.
“They are not going to want to lose two games at home in a row so we’re going to have to be on our game if we hope to compete with the this week.”
The Cheetahs will come with more structure to their game than the flair game the Kings liked to play with.
And Ulster struggled at times to deal with them, before eventually scoring three second half tries to get over the line and move top of the Conference.
Payne said: “There is some structure yes, but at the same time if you play a sort of Barbarians game against them they will torture you as they did against Glasgow at times.
“They will provide threats across the park and it is going to be a stern test for us, but if we can all defend together, it gives us the best chance of shutting them down,” added Payne.
The New Zealand born Payne was forced to retire from playing last year and has switched to the coaching role.
He was involved in the defensive coaching towards the end of last season and he also travelled with Ireland over the summer for the Australia Tour where he was able to work with Irish defence coach Andy Farrell.
Returning to Ulster it was all change in the backs department, but Payne feels it is all positive.
“I think it has been exciting more than anything,” he said. “There are always going to be challenges whether you’re dealing with the best players in the world or the worst.
“I think it’s more exciting than anything because there are a lot of young guys who are keen to learn and some pretty exciting experienced guys that have come with different ideas and obviously myself who might have different ideas too.
“Learning from each other and trying to steer the ship i the right direction so for me it’s pretty exciting, to see the young guys coming through and the likes of Will Addison and Billy (Burns) coming into the team and seeing what they bring, and seeing them start to gel.”
Payne has also found the transition of a new head coach in Dan McFarland easy to deal with.
“He is a good guy, quite entertaining. He knows what he wants so we will come together pretty well as a coaching group I would like to think.
“We are all heading in the same direction and it has been enjoyable. He has plenty of good ideas for us all to learn off,” added Payne.