Preview: Blues v Cheetahs

Daniel Braid 1582058078
The Blues also look to attack but they do it better and defend better so, if they are concentrating, will take themselves to the verge of the playoffs with a good win.

VENUE & TIME: Eden Park, Auckland, Friday April 6, 19:35 NZT.

HEAD TO HEAD: Played 2 � Blues 2, Cheetahs 0.

LAST TIME: April 29, 2006 (Bloemfontein) � Cheetahs 33-34 Blues.

WALKING WOUNDED: The Blues lost Luke McAlister for a month after he suffered a broken cheekbone in a tackle last week but get Troy Flavell back to lead the troops and Joe Rokocoko takes his place on the bench after his ankle problems. Anthony Tuitavake returns to the starting lineup after his hamstring strain and, apart from McAlister, the Blues are at full strength. Rassie Erasmus has several problems, starting in the front row, where two Boks, CJ van der Linde and Os du Randt, are long-term casualties. Outstanding loose forwards Juan Smith and Ryno van der Merwe are also down for this game and centre Ronnie Cooke sits it out with a bicep injury, while hooker Richardt Strauss has been shifted to the bench after suffering a head clash last week.

FORM: This is going to be super tough for the Cheetahs, as the Blues are hot at present and the South Africans traditionally play open rugby of the sort the Blues really enjoy. The locals can play it tight, too, so there aren't many obvious options for Rassie Erasmus and his men. Last week the Blues made too many errors in the first half but picked it up after the break and won well against a bruising Chiefs side while the Cheetahs realised, perhaps too late, that the Highlanders were beatable but they couldn't close the gap before fulltime.

WHO'S HOT: Greg Rawlinson had his best game for a long time last week and is rewarded with a seat on the bench � it's a tough life in the Blues' second row. Keven Mealamu made a huge difference when he came on and has taken over as the starting hooker. Daniel Braid is probably playing better now than when he was an All Black and Sam Tuitupou will be a threat with his powerful running and fierce tackling. The Cheetahs have a high-class loose trio, even if they are not very big, and strong tight forwards. The injured skipper Smith is the star turn but gets good help every week from Kabamba Floors, Jannie du Plessis and Corniel van Zyl. Michael Claassens is a fine halfback and Eddie Fredericks has been in try-scoring touch this year.

WE THINK: Despite having plenty of respect for the Cheetahs, we can see nothing but a big Blues win in this game. The predicted open style will suit the home side and we expect them to take maximum points in a match that will have good contribution from both teams.

TEAMS:

Blues:1 � Tony Woodcock, 2 � Keven Mealamu, 3 � John Afoa, 4 � Ali Williams, 5 � Troy Flavell (captain), 6 � Justin Collins, 7 � Daniel Braid, 8 � Jerome Kaino, 9 � Steve Devine, 10 � Isa Nacewa, 11 � Anthony Tuitavake, 12 � Sam Tuitupou, 13 � Isaia Toeava, 14 � Doug Howlett, 15 � Ben Atiga.

Reserves: 16 � Derren Witcombe, 17 � Nick White, 18 � Greg Rawlinson, 19 � Angus Macdonald, 20 � David Gibson, 21 � David Holwell, 22 � Joe Rokocoko.

Cheetahs:1 � Ollie le Roux (captain), 2 � Hans van Dyk, 3 � Jannie du Plessis, 4 � Rory Duncan, 5 � Corniel van Zyl, 6 � Heinrich Brussouw, 7 � Duane Vermeulen, 8 � Kabamba Floors, 9 � Michael Claassens, 10 � Herkie Kruger, 11 � Tiger Mangweni, 12 � Meyer Bosman, 13 � Marius Joubert, 14 � Eddie Fredericks, 15 � Bevan Fortuin.

Reserves: 16 � Richardt Strauss, 17 � Wian du Preez, 18 � Dewald Senekal, 19 � Bian Vermaak, 20 � Noel Oelschig, 21 � Willem de Waal, 22 � Philip Burger.

REFEREE: Paul Marks
Daniel Braid 1582058078