Preview: Brumbies v Cheetahs

Date published: April 3 2015

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Coming off a bye and eager to extend their lead in the Australian Conference, the Brumbies host the Cheetahs on Saturday.

Despite their week off the Brumbies hold a two-point advantage over the Waratahs after four wins from six matches so far this year.

Stephen Larkham's side have had a week to stew on what was a comprehensive loss to the 'Tahs in Sydney, when they just didn't get going at all in a rare game when little clicked and they lost the contact battles.

In what will go down as one of the more intense games of the season in terms of physicality, the Brumbies faltered up front and were constantly under pressure with the ball in hand from the 'Tahs defence as the handling errors racked up.

A response is therefore required and the Brumbies will hope to prove they are no soft touch this weekend against a Cheetahs outfit that have struggled both defensively and in the scrum.

The numbers are painful reading for Cheetahs fans, with the scrum holding the worst success rate in the competition on 70 percent. No one either has a worse tackling percentage than their 83.9 success rate, missing an average of 22.3 tackles per game. The Brumbies though funnily enough are in fact are the second worst in both categories, suggesting Saturday's game could be very open.

Statistics like that are music to the ears of Nic White and Matt Toomua, the Wallaby half-back combination who have proved time and again that they know how to pick a defence apart.

The Brumbies have scored the most the tries in the competition this year, tied with the Hurricanes on 19, and yet they don't come anywhere near the top of the stats for defenders beaten, metres made or carries.

That's because their kicking game and the work of their pack has been excellent, with explosive backs like Joe Tomane and Henry Speight then on hand to round off their attacks.

The Cheetahs are no slouches when it comes to attacking rugby either when you factor in the return of Willie le Roux and pace of Cornal Hendricks, but they can't influence games if their forward fail to gain parity with the opposition.

Contests between these two sides have been settled by less than seven points over the last three matches – could the same happen again? Or will the power of the Brumbies pack be too much?

“David (Pocock) made a successful return to rugby last week and we’ll see him start, while Jarrad Butler, who’s been fantastic for us all year, moves to number eight," said Larkham.

“In the backs we’ve made one significant change with Tevita Kuridrani ruled out through injury for up to eight weeks, we’ve decided to go with Henry Speight. He’s itching to get his hands on the ball a little bit more and we’ve moved him to 13."

The last time these sides met: Last year in Bloemfontein it was the Cheetahs who came out on top in a surprising result. Johan Goosen's influence was crucial for the home side as he scored 22 points, kicking four penalties, a drop goal and scoring a try. White's late penalties gave the Brumbies a losing bonus point.

Players to watch: As Larkham said above, Henry Speight hasn't quite been as influential as he would have liked on the back of such an impressive campaign last year. Now capped by the Wallabies, Speight is such a powerful runner with great speed and an eye for the line – we just haven't seen enough of that in 2015. Moving him to outside centre could be a masterstroke. All eyes will be on David Pocock too as he starts in the back row.

For the visitors Boom Prinsloo had a fine outing against the Chiefs, combining well with Heinrich Brüssow, and the flanker will relish that breakdown battle against Pocock. Coenie Oosthuizen's return also is crucial after the way the Cheetahs have struggled in the scrum, with the Springbok up against a strong opponent in Ben Alexander.

Team news: Pocock returns to openside flanker while Tevita Kuridrani has been ruled out through injury as Speight switches to 13. Pocock’s second start for the year comes on the back of a solid return two weeks ago from the bench against the Waratahs. His inclusion pushes Jarrad Butler to number eight and Ita Vaea to the bench. Blake Enever makes his first career start at lock, moving Rory Arnold out of the matchday 23, while on the bench, Allan Alaalatoa comes into jersey number 17 for JP Smith.

Cheetahs head coach Naka Drotské meanwhile has recalled Bok duo Le Roux and Oosthuizen while Francois Venter is also back in the XV. Torsten van Jaarsveld and Danie Mienie also return, with the other changes made see Carl Wegner and Tian Meyer come in. Sarel Pretorius is on the bench following the birth of his second child.

Form: The two losses for the Brumbies so far this season have come against the last two champions, the Chiefs and the Waratahs, but it's been those four wins and three try bonus points (plus an extra losing bonus point) that have propelled them to the top. While their defence might not be watertight, they've also only conceded six tries all season.

As for the Cheetahs they are the only side in the competition to have conceded over 200 points, currently sitting on 213, by far the most in Super Rugby. Their two wins came by stunning the Sharks in Round 1 and then by a single point over the Blues. A 57-14 thrashing from the Crusaders has been the low point of their season so far.

Prediction: The recent history between these two points to a close affair, but after being spurned in Sydney the Brumbies should recover and take away another try bonus point win in a high-scoring contest. Brumbies by 12.

Previous results:

2014: Brumbies won 27-21 in Bloemfontein
2013: Brumbies won 15-13 in Canberra
2012: Brumbies won 24-23 in Canberra
2011: Cheetahs won 47-36 in Bloemfontein
2010: Brumbies won 61-15 in Canberra
2009: Brumbies won 40-27 in Bloemfontein

The teams:

Brumbies: 15 Robbie Coleman, 14 Joe Tomane, 13 Henry Speight, 12 Christian Lealiifano, 11 James Dargaville, 10 Matt Toomua, 9 Nic White, 8 Jarrad Butler, 7 David Pocock, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Blake Enever, 3 Scott Sio, 2 Stephen Moore (c), 1 Ben Alexander
Replacements: 16 Josh Mann-Rea, 17 Allan Alaalatoa, 18 Ruan Smith, 19 Jordan Smiler, 20 Ita Vaea, 21 Michael Dowsett, 22 Lausii Taliauli, 23 Nigel Ah Wong

Cheetahs: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 Johann Sadie, 12 Francois Venter, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Joe Pietersen, 9 Tian Meyer, 8 Willie Britz, 7 Boom Prinsloo, 6 Heinrich Brussow, 5 Francois Uys (c), 4 Carl Wegner, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 1 Danie Mienie
Replacements: 16 Stephan Coetzee, 17 BG Uys, 18 Maks van Dyk, 19 Steven Sykes, 20 Tienie Burger, 21 Sarel Pretorius, 22 Willie du Plessis, 23 Rayno Benjamin

Date: Saturday, April 4
Venue: Canberra Stadium
Kick-off: 19:40 local (21:40 NZDT, 10:40 SAST, 09:40 GMT)
Referee: Ben O'Keeffe
Assistant Referees: Angus Gardner, James Leckie
TMO: Peter Marshall

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