Preview: Cheetahs v Blues
Thursday, February 26, 2015 James Mortimer Getty Images
Saturday, February 28, 06:10 (NZDT)
H2H: Played 8, Cheetahs 2, Blues 5, Draw 1
Last match: Blues 40 Cheetahs 30, 22.03.14 in Auckland
Squad update: The Cheetahs cooled their heels last week with a second round bye, giving them a fortnight to reflect on a mighty victory where they scored four tries in Durban and consigned the Sharks to a 35-29 loss.
There are two changes from coach Naka Drotske since that match, one in the forwards and another out wide.
Carl Wegner replaces the injured Lood de Jager in the second row, while Springboks and Sevens speed merchant Cornal Hendricks comes into the team at the expense of Clayton Blommetjies.
The Blues continue to reintroduce All Blacks to their starting setup with the inclusion of Charlie Faumuina and Patrick Tuipulotu, with both forwards coming off the bench in Cape Town.
Tuipulotu replaces the suspended Hayden Triggs, while in the back row Brendon O’Connor and Luke Braid will start in the fabled City of Roses.
Sir John Kirwan has continued the alterations in the backline, with Hamish Northcott and Melani Nanai coming into the side at second five and right wing, while Charles Piutau and Lolagi Visinia are at centre and fullback.
Form: While there may have been some concerns about a defence that seems to open up off turnover ball, there were exciting signs as the Cheetahs flamboyant attack made the Sharks defensive systems look pedestrian at times.
Marcel Coetzee might have thought he had snatched victory for his team at the death, but the troops from Bloemfontein thoroughly deserved their win – a match against a preseason favourites and early campaign write-offs.
Not for the first time the pundits were not able to accurately predict what actually might occur.
The Blues meanwhile are coming off two early season losses, with the Chiefs walking away from Albany with a 23-18 win, which was followed by a tough trip over to Newlands, where the Stormers claimed a 27-16 triumph.
While the side sticks to the party line that there is no panic, returning to New Zealand in round four to host the Lions with a 0-3 record will not be on the bucket list.
Key players: Probably the most impressive player in Durban was the collective individual that is the pack.
Standing up to one of the most abrasive forward units on their home track is no mean feat, but this allowed the Cheetahs sparkling rear guard to be successful with numerous forays.
Henricks return ensure a cobra like counter attack from the back with Willie Le Roux and Raymond Rhule alive for the opportunities.
While Joe Pietersen looked a natural ten despite playing in numerous other positions over the years, and Sarel Pretorius would be rated as one of the most dangerous sniping scrumhalves in the tournament.
The Blues will look to one man, the tower that is Jerome Kaino.
Playing his 100th Investec Super Rugby match, the back row forward is the power in the division, with O’Connor and Braid adding dynamism to the tourist’s loose game.
With Faumuina joining Tony Woodcock, expect little yield from the Blues scrum, but against a team that plays like Cheetahs, the Auckland based franchise will need their backs.
Ihaia West would have taken plenty from his team’s struggles in recent weeks, with the nimble first five-eighth learning more about controlling territory and tone of the contest.
Jimmy Cowan offers a far different portfolio to his opposite, but perhaps the key man out wide will be All Blacks strike back Piutau, who will look to ramp up his high knee running style in the middle of heavy traffic.
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