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Preview: Cheetahs v Chiefs

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Thursday, April 12, 2012    Sportal.co.nz    Getty Images

But we all know the Cheetahs are playing good rugby at present and, back on home soil after a successful trip Down Under, they will be a force that cannot be lightly dismissed.

VENUE & TIME: Vodacom Park, Bloemfontein, Saturday April 14 @ 1505 local (Sunday 0105 NZST)

HEAD TO HEAD: Played 6; Free State / Cheetahs 1, Chiefs 3, drawn 2.

LAST TIME: April 23, 2010 (Hamilton) - Chiefs 25-25 Cheetahs.

WALKING WOUNDED: The big worry in Cheetahs country concerned flyhalf Johan Goosen, who suffered shoulder damage when taken down in a marginally dangerous tackle by Elton Jantjies last week. He was on day to day watch through the week, with Sias Ebersohn standing by as a ready-made replacement if needed, although by Wednesday night (SA time) Naka Drotske had confirmed Ebersohn would start and Goosen would be on the bench if fit. The Chiefs had not reported any major injury concerns after the match at Perth.

FORM:
Cheetahs:
Round 3: lost to Brumbies 23-24 (a)
Round 4: beat Rebels 33-26 (a)
Round 5: lost to Crusaders 21-28 (a)
Round 6: beat Hurricanes 47-38 (a)
Round 7: beat Lions 26-5 (h)

Chiefs:
Round 3: beat Crusaders 24-19 (a)
Round 4: beat Brumbies 29-22 (h)
Round 5: bye
Round 6: beat Waratahs 30-13 (h)
Round 7: beat Force 20-12 (a)

The Cheetahs completed their most successful Antipodean tour yet with two wins and two narrow losses, returning to South Africa with 11 points in their kitbag. They backed that up with a convincing win over the Lions although the margin could have been a lot greater if they hadn't let the intensity fall away after running up a 23-0 halftime lead. That said, there was never any chance the match was going to be allowed to slip. They are playing an enterprising brand of rugby at present, with the forwards doing a lot of hard yards and the backs making good use of possession.

The Chiefs are also off to their best-ever start and are currently riding a five-match winning streak that has taken them to the top of the New Zealand conference. Dave Rennie has not taken long to impose his will on things in Chiefs country and has the team playing as a team - something the Chiefs have not always done. The players are responding well and many of their performances have been of a high quality. While the Perth effort may not have been one of their best, the Chiefs will be pleased to get away from a tricky venue with another four points in the bag.

WHO'S HOT: Heinrich Brussow is well known around the rugby world for his ability in the loose, and so far in 2012 he has been living up to that high billing. As always he has a high work-rate, is strong over the ball and has a good understanding of the breakdown law. An added bonus to his game has been some powerful running and skilful off-loading. The Chiefs have spoken publicly about the need to shut Sonny Bill Williams down, so the midfield of Adriaan Strauss and Robert Ebersohn will need to work together and not get sucked into the ‘two on one' trap that Williams creates so well. If they can hold formation, the two Cheetahs are sound and clever centres who will offer their own threats when in possession.

Much of the credit for the Chiefs good form has to go to the pack, whose cohesiveness has been a vital part of the team game-plan. One who has been in very good form - although hardly as prominent as in the past - is Liam Messam, whose work-rate has increased hugely in the past two years or so. He can still make those damaging runs but has a better understanding of his position's basic requirements, and is a much better player as a result. There has been plenty of talk about the Sonny Bill Williams - Richard Kahui centre pairing this season, and with good reason. The two are combining well in addition to playing well as individuals, and are creating plenty of headaches for the opposition. A classic example came last week when Williams drew five players into the tackle before dumping a pass off to Tim Nanai-Williams to make the simple finish.

WE THINK: Many in New Zealand may see this match as almost a done deal, but the betting agencies find it hard to split the pair and that's a verdict that gets a nod of approval here. There's a lot to like about both teams; the Chiefs have simply done a little better in the close games so far. This one should also be close, although there should be enough open play to interest fans throughout. It's almost coin-toss stuff but the Cheetahs at home get the nod by the smallest possible margin.

<b>TEAMS:</b>
<b>Cheetahs: </b>1. Coenie Oosthuizen, 2. Adriaan Strauss (capt), 3. WP Nel, 4. George Earle, 5. Isaak van der Westhuyzen, 6. Heinrich Brussow, 7. Justin Downey, 8. Philip van der Walt, 9. Piet van Zyl, 10. Sias Ebersohn, 11. Willie le Roux, 12. Andries Strauss, 13. Robert Ebersohn, 14. Rayno Benjamin, 15. Hennie Daniller.

Replacements: 16. Hercu Liebenberg, 17. Trevor Nyakane, 18. Andries Ferreira, 19. Ashley Johnson, 20. Tewis de Bruyn, 21. Johan Goosen, 22. Philip Snyman.
 <b>Chiefs:</b> 1. Sona Taumalolo, 2. Hika Elliot, 3. Ben Tameifuna, 4. Craig Clarke (capt), 5. Brodie Retallick, 6. Liam Messam, 7. Tanerau Latimer, 8. Alex Bradley, 9. Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 10. Aaron Cruden, 11. Tim Nanai-Williams, 12. Sonny Bill Williams, 13. Richard Kahui, 14. Lelia Masaga, 15. Andrew Horrell.

Replacements: 16. Mahonri Schwalger, 17. Josh Hohneck, 18. Michael Fitzgerald, 19. Sam Cane, 20. Augustine Pulu, 21 Asaeli Tikoirotuma, 22. Robbie Robinson.
<b>REFEREE: </b>Jonathan Kaplan (SA)