Franco Smith’s men will face a high-flying New Zealand team for the third time in four weeks tomorrow when they host the Highlanders in Bloemfontein (kick-off 7pm).
And if their previous encounters with Kiwi opposition is anything to go by then Smith’s charges are in for another big test.
Just under four weeks ago the Cheetahs led 24-0 against the Chiefs at home but lost 41-27 and then last weekend they were given a 48-21 hiding by the unbeaten Crusaders. In between those matches the Cheetahs travelled to Loftus for a date with the Bulls and they lost that match as well.
Now it’s the turn of the former champions, the Highlanders. Tony Brown’s men are on something of a high after putting 50 points on the Stormers last week. And while the men from Dunedin started the competition slowly, they are now in top form and will prove another big challenge for Smith and Co.
They’re a side packed with All Blacks and stars such as Waisake Naholo, Malakai Fekitoa, Patrick Osborne, Aaron Smith, Luke Whitelock, Liam Squire and Joe Wheeler. Even with fullback Ben Smith out, they can call on Matt Faddes to fill the No 15 jersey.
As for the Cheetahs, who’ve won just twice in nine outings and conceded a whopping 42 tries, things don’t look very rosy. Besides the fact they are facing the Super Rugby chop and there being uncertainty among the players about their futures, coach Smith is soon to be involved with the Springboks as attack coach and his thinking may already be on the French, who play three Tests here next month.
On top of that Smith has hardly done his team any favours this season by regularly rotating his players, as he’s again done this week. Paul Schoeman, for example, is at openside this week when he was at No 8 a week ago, Henco Venter returns to play eighthman again, too, while there’s again a change in the second row, as well.
Also, the halfbacks have changed once again, while an injury to Nico Lee means William Small-Smith gets a chance next to captain Francois Venter in midfield.
In spite of the poor defensive effort by his team so far, Smith feels his side is on the up.
“I still feel the growth of this side is immense,” he said yesterday. “To have a team play against the best every week is the only way to get better. We are a good team with ball in hand and we want to play best to our strengths.”
Expect another run-from-all-parts performance then from the Cheetahs tomorrow. But will they be as lethal when they don’t have the ball. That is the question.
CHEETAHS STARTING XV: Clayton Blommetjies, Sergeal Petersen, Francois Venter (capt), William Small-Smith, Raymond Rhule, Fred Zeilinga, Tian Meyer, Henco Venter, Oupa Mohoje, Paul Schoeman, Francois Uys, Carl Wegner, Johan Coetzee, Torsten van Jaarsveld, Ox Nche; Replacements: Elandre Huggett, Charles Marais, Tom Botha, Armandt Koster, Uzair Cassiem, Niell Jordaan, Shaun Venter, Niel Marais