The Chiefs will be looking to end their South African tour on a positive note when they clash with the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein on Saturday.
After their five-match winning streak was broken in the 36-24 defeat to Stormers at Newlands last weekend, Dave Rennie’s men will be highly motivated to put things right. They have not suffered back-to-back defeats in South Africa since 2008.
The Cheetahs had a bye last weekend. Despite this break, one cannot foresee the fresh legs of the Free State side preventing a one-sided affair in which the Chiefs are expected to dominate.
The return of the influential Sam Cane for the Chiefs spells trouble for the Cheetahs. Franco Smith’s side have yet to face a New Zealand team in this year’s competition and we have all witnessed the gulf in class that exists between All Black sides and any other side, barring the Stormers-Chiefs exception.
The Chiefs have also won seven of their last nine games outside of New Zealand, including each of their last three victories by an average margin of 32 points.
The Cheetahs are winless in nine games against the Chiefs since they won their first ever encounter in Round 9, 1997. Although. in that time, there have been three draws between the sides. But it is still a hoodoo the Free Staters will be desperate to break.
On the plus side, the Cheetahs are the only team in the competition to boast a goal-kicking record above 90 percent and the return of Niel Marais at fly-half will give them more attacking impetus given he is a more creative player than Fred Zeilinga, who moves to the bench,
The last time the teams met: They faced off way back in March 2015 in Round 4. The Chiefs won 37-27 in Hamilton that day. A massive scrum effort in the second half laid the platform for the Chiefs’ victory. Tries from Michael Leitch, Sam Cane, Liam Messam and Andrew Horrell plus 17 points from the boot of Aaron Cruden ensured the Waikato side were victorious. A crucial factor was their dominance of the set-pieces in general. The Cheetahs were not exactly devoid of creativity either, scoring three tries themselves; one from Boom Prinsloo, followed by a brace from Heinrich Brussouw. But it was not enough.
Players to watch: Chiefs captain Sam Cane returns for this match and the talismanic openside flanker will no doubt bring plenty of aggression to the loose trio. He will not only bolster the side physically but tactically as well with his cool, calm and collected approach under pressure. Plus, he will be making the big decisions on the day and there is no better candidate for that.
The Chiefs will need to be wary of the pace of Sergeal Petersen, who starts on the wing for the Cheetahs. Petersen, a 100m World Youth Athletics Champion, has scored 95 points since signing for the Cheetahs in 2015. The speed merchant injured himself in the opening match of this season against the Lions and now making his comeback from a six-week layoff. The 2012 Craven Week Player of the Tournament has also turned out for the SA Sevens side and poses a serious threat, especially in one-on-one situations, where he can expose some of the quickest for pace.
Team news: Props Ox Nche and Johan Coetzee move from the bench to the starting line-up and Charles Marais and Tom Botha move to the bench. Carl Wegner and Francois Uys swap places with Wegner starting at lock and Uys on the bench. Niel Marais will be starting at fly-half while Fred Zeilinga moves to the bench. Nico Lee moves from wing to centre and Sergeal Petersen will be starting on the wing. Junior Pokomela or Luther Obi will be replacing Clinton Swart on the bench.
Co-captain Sam Cane is fully recovered from the concussion he sustained in his sides game against the Bulls two weeks ago and will start at openside flanker. In the forwards, Brayden Mitchell earns his first start for the Chiefs at hooker, while Taleni Seu is promoted from the bench to join Brodie Retallick in the second row. Mitchell Brown returns to the starting XV to wear the six jersey. In the backs, Anton Lienert-Brown shifts to inside centre, with Sam McNicol making his first start for the season in jersey 13. Of note in the reserves is the inclusion of 20-year-old Tasman back Alex Nankivell. Finlay Christie had to withdraw from the Stormers match due to illness, but is back to full health this week and ready to add impact off the bench in jersey 21.
Form: The Chiefs’ five-game winning streak was ended in the 36-24 defeat to the Stormers on Saturday. They still played amazing rugby, scoring scintillating tries but any team in the world would have found it hard to beat the Stormers with the way they were playing on Saturday. Before this, the Chiefs notched up impressive victories, winning 24-15 against the Highlanders, 41-26 against the Blues, 26-18 against the Hurricanes, 27-14 against the Rebels and 28-12 against the Bulls.
The Cheetahs, on the other hand, have been poor this season, winning two matches while losing four. They have lost 25-28 to the Lions, 14-41 to the Jaguares, 30-38 to the Sharks and 10-53 to the Stormers. They beat the Bulls 34-28 in Round two and the Sunwolves 38-31 in Round three. They are on a three-match losing streak but a bye last week would have served to freshen up the legs and minds.
Prediction: The Chiefs will be determined to end their South African tour on a high note after the humbling at Newlands last weekend. Things could get messy for the Cheetahs. Chiefs by 30.
2015: Chiefs won 37-27 in Hamilton
2014: Teams drew 43-43 in Bloemfontein
2013: Chiefs won 45-3 in Hamilton
2012: Chiefs won 39-33 in Bloemfontein
2010: Teams drew 25-25 in Hamilton
2009: Chiefs won 28-10 in
2008: Chiefs won 22-20 in Hamilton
2007: Teams drew 22-22 in Bloemfontein
Cheetahs: 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Sergeal Petersen, 13 Francois Venter (c), 12 Nico Lee, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Niel Marais, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 Henco Venter, 7 Oupa Mohoje, 6 Paul Schoeman, 5 Carl Wegner, 4 Armandt Koster, 3 Johan Coetzee, 2 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 1 Ox Nche
Replacements: 16 Elandré Huggett, 17 Charles Marais, 18 Tom Botha, 19 Francois Uys, 20 Niell Jordaan, 21 Junior Pokomela / Luther Obi, 22 Tian Meyer, 23 Fred Zeilinga
Chiefs: 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Toni Pulu, 13 Sam McNicol, 12 Anton Lienert-Brown, 11 James Lowe, 10 Aaron Cruden (cc), 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Michael Leitch, 7 Sam Cane, 6 Mitchell Brown, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Taleni Seu, 3 Atu Moli, 2 Brayden Mitchell, 1 Kane Hames
Replacements: 16 Hika Elliot, 17 Siegfried Fisi’ihoi, 18 Sosefo Kautai, 19 Dominic Bird, 20 Liam Messam, 21 Finlay Christie, 22 Alex Nankivell, 23 Shaun Stevenson
Date: Saturday, April 15
Venue: Toyota Stadium, Bloemfontein
Kick-off: 15:05 local (13:05 GMT)
Referee: Jaco van Heerden
Assistant Referees: Marius van der Westhuizen, Lourens van der Merwe
TMO: Johan Greeff