Preview: Cheetahs v Blues

Date published: February 26 2015

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We're only in round three but already it's almost a must-win game for the Blues after one point from their first two games.

Last time out Hayden Triggs' mindless punch saw them play much of the game against the Stormers with 14 men, and despite battling manfully, they went down 27-16.

Now they face a Cheetahs side who produced one of the shocks of the round on the opening weekend downing the Sharks on their own patch.

One of the keys to that win was the performance of the Cheetahs scrum, which has been getting guidance from Springbok legend Os du Randt.

After seeing off an all-Springbok front row in round one, this will be another tough battle, with Charlie Faumuina back and joining Tony Woodcock in the Blues engine room.

"Our scrums were very good against the Sharks. I think that Os du Randt has really helped in shaping our form there," said Cheetahs coach Naka Drotske.

"There was a lot of pressure on us to perform in the scrums after we did not do well there in last year's Super Rugby and Currie Cup competitions.

"We showed against the Sharks Springbok front row that we are up for the challenge. In saying that, the pressure will be there to try and do that in every game.

"It was a massive confidence boost for us to win our first game of the competition. I don't know when that last happened.

"For us it is important to take everything from that game and incorporate it into the match against the Blues."

The last time these team met: There wasn't much defending the last time these two teams met with the Blues eventually running out 40-30 winners in Auckland. They picked up a full five points with tries from Steven Luatua, George Moala, Tevita Li and Tony Woodcock but the Cheetahs pushed them hard running in three tries of their own.

Players to watch: Cornal Hendricks starts for the first time this season and the Cheetahs will be hoping he can make a big impact out wide up against an inexperienced Blues back three. His combination with Willie le Roux could be lethal while Sarel Pretorius is always a big threat around the fringes.

For the Blues Charlie Piutau moves into the centres after being the standout performer in Cape Town, and he will again be a danger man. In the back row the combination of Luke Braid and Brendon O'Connor in the back row could also have a big impact at the breakdown.

Team news: There are two changes to the starting lineup for the Cheetahs from their win over the Sharks a fortnight ago. Hendricks replaces Clayton Blommetjies on the right wing, while Carl Wegner comes in for the injured Lood de Jager.

Meanwhile the Blues have made five changes to the team that went down to the Stormers last week. Patrick Tuipulotu replaces the suspended Hayden Triggs, while Charlie Faumuina and Braid are the other new faces in the pack. In the three-quarters, Melani Nanai comes on to the wing for Ben Lam, while Piutau moves to centre, allowing Lolagi Visinia to start at full-back.

Form: The Cheetahs produced one of the shocks of the opening round with their bonus-point success over the Sharks before an early week 2 bye. Against the Blues they have won just two of their eight encounters, but it's been seven years since they lost at home to the men from Auckland.

The Blues come into the game on the back of successive defeats, following up an opening loss to the Chiefs with last week's defeat in Cape Town. They played much of the game against the Stormers with 14 men after Triggs' sending off.

Predictions: It's dangerous to read too much into early-season form at this stage, but the Cheetahs have a very dangerous side on paper, and impressed against the Sharks. The Blues desperately need a win to keep pace in the New Zealand conference and their pack should match up quite well against the Cheetahs. Still, it's hard to bet against the Free State side on home soil, and with the threats all over their backline, we fancy them to edge an entertaining affair. Cheetahs by 7.

Previous results:

2014: Blues won 40-30 in Auckland
2013: Cheetahs won 34-13 in Bloemfontein
2011: Blues won 29-22 in Auckland
2010: Cheetahs won 36-32 in Bloemfontein
2009: Blues won 46-12 in North Harbour

The teams:

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

Blues: 15 Lolagi Visinia, 14 Melani Nanai, 13 Charles Piutau, 12 Hamish Northcott, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Ihaia West, 9 Jimmy Cowan, 8 Jerome Kaino, 7 Brendon O'Connor, 6 Luke Braid, 5 Patrick Tuipulotu, 4 Josh Bekhuis, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 James Parsons, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements:16 Matt Moulds, 17 Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 18 Angus Ta'avao, 19 Steven Luatua, 20 Akira Ioane, 21 Jamison Gibson-Park, 22 Simon Hickey, 23 Francis Saili.

Date: Friday, 27 February 
Venue: Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein 
Kick-off: 19:10 local (17:10 GMT) 
Referee: Rohan Hoffman (Australia)
Assistant referees: Andrew Lees (Australia), Lourens van der Merwe (South Africa)

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