Preview: Pumas v Free State Cheetahs

Date published: September 22 2016

The Pumas face their toughest challenge of the season when they take on the Free State Cheetahs in Nelspruit on Friday.

With just two rounds of matches left in the tournament, this fixture is important for both sides albeit for different reasons. 

The Pumas are yet to win a match this year and are languishing in second last place in the standings while the Cheetahs are the only side in the competition who have won all their matches and are sitting comfortably at the top of the table.

Both these sides employ expansive game-plans so don't be surprised if this fixture delivers a large dosage of end-to-end action with plenty of tries at the end of the match.

Despite their lowly position on the table, the Pumas have been competitive in all their matches this season. 

Under the guidance of head coach MJ Mentz they managed to secure bonus points in five of their six matches played this season and were unlucky not to repeat that feat in their last match, against Western Province in Cape Town.

The men from Nelspruit crossed for three tries in their 31-23 defeat failing narrowly to secure both a try-scoring bonus point and one for losing by seven points or less.

Mentz has made two changes to his starting line-up after that defeat. Both alterations are in the back-line, with Heinrich Steyl replacing Devon Williams at full-back while Kevin Luiters takes over from Emile Temperman at scrum-half.

The Cheetahs have impressed since the start of their campaign and have been a breath of fresh air to the competition. Head coach Franco Smith deserves all the plaudits for team's superb start to the season after another underwhelming Super Rugby campaign.

Players like Rayno Benjamin, Clayton Blommetjies, Niel Jordaan, Uzair Cassiem and Paul Schoeman have come to the fore with impressive performances in recent while the return of first-choice captain Francois Venter and dynamic winger Sergeal Petersen will boost their attacking options.

This match will have extra significance for Cassiem as he will be facing his former team-mates. Cassiem's impressive form for the Pumas in 2015 led to his move to Bloemfontein where he has been caught the at the coalface of the Cheetahs' forward effort in Super Rugby and the Currie Cup.

The visitors will be full of confidence as they head in to this clash after delivering arguably their best showing of the season in their previous match – a 37-29 victory against the defending champions, the Golden Lions in Bloemfontein.

If they continue where they left off in that match, then it could be a long day at the office for the Pumas this weekend.

The last time these teams met: The Pumas claimed a shock 29-26 victory during the Currie Cup Qualifying tournament in Bloemfontein. The Cheetahs held a 21-10 lead at half-time but the Pumas launched a superb fightback after the interval and secured victory in the game's closing stages via a try from Tyler Fisher.

Prediction: Although the Pumas are at home, they won't upset the apple cart and the Cheetahs will cruise to victory. Cheetahs to win by 20 points!

The teams:

Pumas: 15 Heinrich Steyl, 14 Ruwellyn Isbell, 13 Hoffman Maritz, 12 Hennie Skorbinski, 11 JP Lewis, 10 Francois Brummer, 9 Kevin Luiters, 8 Renaldo Bothma (c), 7 Lambert Groenewald, 6 Brian Shabangu, 5 Jannie Stander, 4 Stephan Greeff, 3 Louis Albertse, 2 Frank Herne, 1 Khwezi Mona 
Replacements: 16 Simon Westraadt, 17 DeJay Terblanche, 18 Jeremy Jordaan, 19 Carel Greeff, 20 Emile Temperman, 21 Devon Williams, 22 Tyler Fisher

Free State Cheetahs: 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Sergeal Petersen, 13 Francois Venter (c), 12 Nico Lee, 11 Ryno Benjamin, 10 Niel Marais, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 Niell Jordaan, 7 Uzair Cassiem, 6 Paul Schoeman, 5 Reniel Hugo, 4 Justin Basson, 3 Johan Coetzee, 2 Jacques Du Toit, 1 Charles Marais
Replacements: 16 Elandre Huggett, 17 Ox Nche, 18 Armandt Koster, 19 Tienie Burger, 20 Zee Mkhabela, 21 Fred Zeilinga, 22 William Small-Smith

Date: Friday, September 23
Venue: Mbombela Stadium, Nelspruit
Kick-off: 18:45 local (16:45 GMT)
Referee: Lesego Legoete
Assistant Referees: Jaco van Heerden, Ricus van der Hoven
TMO: Johan Greeff