Planet Rugby

Preview: Cheetahs v Blues

04th July 2013 16:38

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Power: Philip van der Walt

Desperate to secure their Wildcard spot in the lead up to the play-offs, the Cheetahs face the Blues in Bloemfontein on Saturday.

The hosts have been outstanding this season and are in the middle of a red-letter campaign, with nine wins from 15 matches leaving them second in the South African Conference.

Tapping into what many felt was a ton of unfulfilled potential, Naka Drotske's side have flourished this season, with rising star Willie Le Roux leading the way.

Bizarrely despite their all-action style, the Cheetahs have beaten the fewest defenders in the league with 203, some way off the Highlanders' 366.

Their defence on the other hand has been excellent, making 87.8 per cent of tackles to put them amongst the top three sides in Super Rugby in that department. The Cheetahs discipline has also been exemplary, with the fewest yellow cards conceded all season - one.

Defensively too, the Cheetahs deserve nothing but praise. Robert Ebersohn, Phillip Van Der Walt and Pieter Labuschagne are all inside the top ten for the most tackles made this season, with Labuschagne alone producing an astonishing 228 to put him clear at the top.

Plenty rests on Le Roux with his six tries and 15 clean breaks so far in 2013, but the Springbok is a perfect representation of what the Cheetahs are all about - endeavour and talent.

As for the Blues, last season's misery is now long gone under the reign of Sir John Kirwan in Auckland.

A six-eight record, whilst disappointing, is still a marked improvement from 2012, although the seven-point gap between the Blues and second-placed Crusaders in the New Zealand Conference now appears to be unsurmountable.

Still, it beats finishing an enormous 18 points off the Highlanders as was the case in the middle of last season's nightmare under Pat Lam.

Finding themselves in the top five for key stats including tries scored, clean breaks, metres made and defenders beaten, the Blues' attack has had a rocket lit beneath it.

Much of that comes down to Frank Halai, the former New Zealand Sevens star who leads try-scoring in Super Rugby this season so far with 10.

Charles Piutau on the opposite wing hasn't been quiet either, his 1309 metres made thus far being more than any other player in the league.

Perhaps the greatest threat however has been Rene Ranger. Finally grabbing his chance at Test level after inadvertently signing a three-year contract with Montpellier, Ranger has been in scintillating form.

Piutau, Ranger and Halai lead the league for clean breaks made in 2013, but it is Ranger's additional 37 defenders beaten, 20 offloads and six tries that have made him a complete nightmare to contain in midfield.

The Blues success however is not all down to their attack. Their ability to concede tries at will last season meant it was no surprise they were rooted to the bottom of the New Zealand Conference, yet now they find themselves with the second-best tackle success rate in the league at 88.5 per cent. Becoming competitive again at the breakdown has also helped their cause.

Needing to beat the Cheetahs and the Chiefs in their final match if they are to grab a play-off berth, the Blues will be without key half-backs Piri Weepu and Chris Noakes, with Jamison Gibson-Park and Baden Kerr filling in.

The Cheetahs on the other hand have been forced to wait on influential scrum-half Piet Van Zyl, whilst Adriaan Strauss captains a strong side featuring the exciting duo of Ebersohn and Johann Sadie in midfield.

Prediction: A genuine must-win for both sides, the Blues absentees at half-back and the Cheetahs' home advantage should swing this one. Cheetahs by 5.

The teams:

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.

Blues: 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Frank Halai, 13 Jackson Willison,12 Francis Saili, 11 Rene Ranger, 10 Baden Kerr, 9 Jamison Gibson-Park, 8 Peter Saili, 7 Luke Braid, 6 Steven Luatua, 5 Ali Williams (C ), 4 Anthony Boric, 3 Angus Ta'avao, 2 James Parsons, 1 Sam Prattley
Replacements: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 18 Culum Retallick, 19 Brendon O'Connor, 20 Wayne Ngaluaf, 21 Marty McKenzie, 22 George Moala

Date: Saturday, July 6
Venue: Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein
Kick-off: 14.50 (12.50 GMT)
Referee: Lourens van der Merwe (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Ben Crouse (South Africa), Francois de Bruin (South Africa)
TMO: Gerrie Coetzee (South Africa (South Africa)

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