Preview: Chiefs v Cheetahs
Thursday, February 28, 2013 Sportal.co.nz Getty Images
HEAD TO HEAD: Played 7; Chiefs 4, Free State / Cheetahs 1, drawn 2.
LAST TIME: April 14, 2012 (Bloemfontein) – Cheetahs 33 v 39 Chiefs.
WALKING WOUNDED: With no fresh injuries from their opening clash against the Highlanders, there is only good news for the defending champions.
The Chiefs look set to welcome Hika Elliot (calf) back from injury, while centre Richard Kahui's shoulder will be tested with tackling drills in the leadup to kickoff on Saturday.
For the Cheetahs, Elgar Watts is the freshest injury casualty with a hamstring injury. He is due to return to South Africa on Thursday (NZT).
He joins Heinrich Brussow (shoulder) in the medical ward, although the latter is due to return to action during the Cheetahs' Australasian tour.
Prop Coenie Oosthuizen continues his return from injury with a spot on the bench for the second straight week.
FORM: An electric final quarter was all that separated the Chiefs and Highlanders in their opening clash and the defending champions will know there are plenty of areas to improve.
While their ability to create something out of nothing was instrumental in that 41-27 victory, the Chiefs were often left exposed on the wings.
They will be very aware their defence has to be up to scratch against a Cheetahs side whose brave second half comeback against the Sharks fell seven points short.
There should be plenty of enthusiasm for the visitors, who lost their skipper at the beginning of the season and have had a test of character from the outset.
Last year's Australasian tour was a key time for the Cheetahs in their battle to avoid dropping out of the competition in favour of the promoted Southern Kings. Their fearless approach will be key to not only competing, but coming up trumps against the Chiefs.
Week 1: v Highlanders, won 41-27 (a)
Week 1: v Sharks, lost 22-29 (h)
WHO'S HOT: Experimenting with Tim Nanai-Williams at centre proved to be a masterstroke from coach Dave Rennie. The diminutive No.13 scored two tries, including one that ended a fascinating three minutes of non-stop attacking rugby from both sides. The dual leadership of Craig Clarke and Liam Messam has started from where they left off last year – on a winning note – and that freedom of a shared workload has helped both blossom into key men in the Chiefs' forward pack.
Johan Goosen has been a steady hand for the visitors, combining flair with an ability to read opponents' game plans with ease. He will once more need quick ball, with Sarel Pretorius given the nod ahead of Piet van Zyl for the halfback spot.
Adrian Strauss' captaincy will also come into play and will need to find composure from a team who, unlike most other South African teams, like throwing the ball around rather than grinding up the middle.
WE THINK: The Cheetahs have had just the solitary win from seven matches against the Chiefs, and that number doesn't look like it will increase on Saturday.
Two entertaining teams will be looking for the easiest way to outrun the other, with the Cheetahs in particular not banking on a go-to policy for South African teams, the kicking game.
Expect plenty of improvement from the Chiefs, particularly in the midfield where the inexperienced duo of Bundee Aki and Nanai-Williams will look to showcase more of their Counties Manukau connection.
If their last encounter was any indication, the match could be a one-sided affair yet close on the scoreboard. However, with a large crowd behind them it's hard to see the Chiefs winning by any less than 10 points this weekend to stamp their mark firmly on the 2013 competition.
Chiefs: 1.Pauliasi Manu, 2.Hika Elliot, 3.Ben Afeaki, 4.Michael Fitzgerald, 5.Brodie Retallick, 6.Liam Messam (c), 7.Sam Cane, 8.Fritz Lee, 9.Augustine Pulu, 10.Aaron Cruden, 11.Asaeli Tikoirotuma, 12.Bundee Aki, 13.Tim Nanai-Williams, 14.Lelia Masaga, 15.Gareth Anscombe.
Replacements: 16.Rhys Marshall, 17.Ben Tameifuna, 18.Craig Clarke, 19. Tanerau Latimer, 20.Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 21.Charlie Ngatai, 22.Patrick Osborne.
Cheetahs: 1. Trevor Nyakane, 2. Adriaan Strauss (captain), 3. Lourens Adriaanse, 4. Lood de Jager, 5. Francois Uys, 6. Frans Viljoen, 7. Lappies Labuschagne, 8. Philip van der Walt, 9. Sarel Pretorius,10. Johan Goosen, 11. Raymond Rhule, 12. Robert Ebersohn, 13. Johann Sadie, 14. Willie le Roux,15. Hennie Daniller
Substitutes: 16. Ryno Barnes, 17. Coenie Oosthuizen, 18. Landman Ligtoring, 19. Boom Prinsloo, 20. Piet van Ziel, 21. Riaan Smit, 22. Ryno Benjamin.
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