The lowest ranked side heading to the highest should mean one result – but there's more than a feeling this isn't a foregone conclusion.
The lowest ranked side travelling to the highest should mean one result – but there is more than a feeling this play-off isn't a foregone conclusion.
Why I hear you ask? Well, form for one thing.
3/1 underdogs seems quite high for a Cheetahs team coming off a win and bye week while their opponents enter following a defeat at the Force.
The Brumbies came off second best in almost all facets of play in Perth and, as a result, would have been put under the hammer at training this week. But as assistant coach Stephen Larkham said during the build-up, regular-season showings go out the window when it comes to the play-offs.
Head coach Jake White will hope to see a marked improvement or they will find themselves done for the campaign – it's as simple as that right now.
Subsequently he has called on the experience of George Smith – after he was semi rested last week – while Nic White's return at nine also helps them. White has been vital to their gameplan as his management and kicking option takes some of the pressure off both Matt Toomua and Christian Lealiifano. In truth, the scrum-half's return is critical and coach White's insistence on playing him “even if he is 90 percent fit” illustrates his importance to this team.
White's kicking will help their cause as consistently running at this Cheetahs defence doesn't seem to do much damage as Philip van der Walt, Lappies Labuschagne and Heinrich Brussow occupy three of the top six places in the leading tackler statistics in 2013. Robert Ebersohn is eleventh, although Raymond Rhule and the aforementioned centre are top of missed tackles – that may lead to Tevita Kuridrani and the back-three targeting them.
Elsewhere and the axing of Wallaby starter Joe Tomane in favour of veteran Clyde Rathbone says all you need to know about how the Brumbies fared in Perth. Heads have rolled.
The big question I suppose is whether that loss was a good or bad thing for the Brumbies as it could shore up their game going into the knockout stages. It is also possible the hangover of the Lions Tests had impacted on the likes of Lealiifano and Stephen Moore.
In contrast, the Cheetahs are fresh having shaken off any niggles during their week off, byes being a concept that haven't been kind to them in 2013. It's worth noting they played eleven straight rounds in the early season, which brings a further back pat to their achievements.
Such form has seen a changing of mindset as while Cheetahs victories have long been labelled 'upsets', that is now a tag they have shed themselves of. Should they make the semis, it would surely confirm their standing as one of Super Rugby's new heavyweights.
Factor in they've also been minus Johan Goosen. His absence has definitely slipped under the radar and it is interesting that this week's starting fly-half, Riaan Smit, was fourth pick in pre-season behind the Springbok, Burton Francis and Elgar Watts. He has done whatever has been asked of him by Naka Drotske and should handle the pressure just fine.
Smit will, however, need centre duo Ebersohn and Johann Sadie to be at the top of their games, which in truth they have been throughout 2013's campaign. Ebersohn, despite ongoing speculation regarding his playing future, is a quality number twelve while Sadie seems to be flourishing since settling down from a franchise-hopping early career.
Outside them comes wing Willie le Roux, whose high risk game creates a great deal more good than bad to this side. If the Bok shines, the Cheetahs' hopes improve dramatically and despite White's claim the visitors are conservative, a flowing game is what Drotske wants.
The Brumbies will in turn want to limit such fluidity in front of a sold-out home crowd as they return to knockout rugby for the first time in nine years. It should be a home victory and with it a trip to Loftus Versfeld to face the Bulls but with the Cheetahs 4 and 0 against Australian outfits this season, there is just that lingering doubt that the men from Bloemfontein have a chance – and as we have seen time and time again that is all this Cheetahs team needs.
Prediction: The Cheetahs are capable of winning this but I am expecting a Brumbies backlash and the hosts to face the Bulls in the semis. Jesse Mogg could well play a major role in how this one pans out while the back-row battle is also key. Brumbies by five!
Brumbies: 15 Jesse Mogg, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Christian Lealiifano, 11 Clyde Rathbone, 10 Matt Toomua, 9 Nic White, 8 Ben Mowen (c), 7 George Smith, 6 Peter Kimlin, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Scott Fardy , 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Scott Sio.
Replacements: 16 Siliva Siliva, 17 Ruan Smith, 18 Fotu Auelua, 19 Colby Faingaa, 20 Ian Prior, 21 Andrew Smith, 22 Joe Tomane.
Cheetahs: 15 Hennie Daniller, 14 Willie le Roux, 13 Johann Sadie, 12 Robert Ebersohn, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Riaan Smit, 9 Piet van Zyl, 8 Philip van der Walt, 7 Lappies Labuschagne, 6 Heinrich Brussow, 5 Ligtoring Landman, 4 Lood de Jager, 3 Lourens Adriaanse, 2 Adriaan Strauss (captain), 1 Coenie Oosthuizen.
Replacements: 16 Ryno Barnes, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Waltie Vermeulen, 19 Boom Prinsloo, 20 Sarel Pretorius, 21 Elgar Watts, 22 Rayno Benjamin.
Date: Sunday, July 21
Kick-off: 16:10 local (07:10 BST, 06:10 GMT)
Venue: Canberra Stadium
Referee: Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Rohan Hoffmann (Australia), James Leckie (Australia)
Television match official: Matt Goddard (Australia)
By Adam Kyriacou