Preview: Highlanders v Cheetahs
Thursday, March 7, 2013 Sportal.co.nz Getty Images
WALKING WOUNDED: Besides the well publicised injuries to Tamati Ellison and Nasi Manu, Jamie Joseph has had the luxury of selecting from a strong pool of talent that includes fit-again All Black first-five Colin Slade. Manu's foot injury, sustained in round one, opens the door for Elliott Dixon to enter the starting XV at No 8. Word Cup-winning All Blacks Brad Thorn (calf) and Andrew Hore (suspension) add grit to a pack that was easily matched by the Chiefs in round two.
Meanwhile, Naka Drotske has had to make three changes to his side that fell against the Chiefs. Perhaps the most important sees the return of master pilferer Heinrich Brussow. The former Springbok flanker, who is returning from a shoulder injury sustained during the Currie Cup, will replace the injured Boom Prinsloo on the bench. Lock Rynhard Landman takes the place of Landman Ligtoring in the reserves while Pieter Labuschagne is introduced at openside in place of Lappies Labuschagne.
After their brave second-half comeback fell eight points short of a win against the Sharks in round two, the Cheetahs learned they needed to start their work earlier to avoid more disappointment. They did exactly that against the Chiefs in Hamilton, but despite controlling all the possession in the opening 30 minutes could not capitalise with points on the board. To make matters worse Springbok pivot Johan Goosen has led his team to the worst goal-kicking record in the competition so far (40%). Drotske insisted he has fully recovered from a niggling heel injury but 'lacks confidence' after an extended period on the sideline.
The Highlanders opened their season, before last week's bye, with a thriller against the Chiefs at home. While there were plenty of scintillating tries to celebrate, there was little to speak of in terms of defence as the home side fell 41-27. The Highlanders must make sure they close those cracks, as the Chiefs did last week, or else to the expansive Cheetahs will ensure they become gaping holes to run through. The most important thing for Joseph's men is that they find the chemistry within their team that will ensure success comes regularly. A number of star recruits have been thrown together to form an exciting line-up, but the high profile names mattered little as they were, rather embarrassingly, shown up by far less experienced opponents two weeks ago.
WE THINK: The Highlanders have a prime opportunity to finally get out of the blocks after a false start two weeks ago. Recruits Ma'a Nonu, Tony Woodcock and Brad Thorn will combine for the first time and should show the competition why the Highlanders have been touted as the hottest team coming out of the New Zealand in 2013. The Cheetahs offered little on attack last week and consistently shoot themselves in foot with missed tackles (95 in two games). This one should be fairly straight forward and the way we see it is a Highlanders victory by 18 points.
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