JOHANNESBURG – The Cheetahs won’t face the skillful Sonny Bill Williams in their Super Rugby match at Eden Park in Auckland on Friday, but they will still be up against a Blues team packed with game-breakers.
Tana Umaga’s men are not quite in the league of the four other New Zealand sides, who score from almost anywhere, but they’re no slouches when it comes to scoring tries. And they’ll be licking their lips at the prospect of coming up against Franco Smith’s men after running in 40 points against the Waratahs last week.
The Blues might have won just five times in 10 outings – to be the worst performing New Zealand side in the competition – but they have still managed to score 35 tries, compared to the Cheetahs’ 28, from their 10 matches, with just two wins.
The Cheetahs have little going for them right now, even if they did play some excellent rugby against the Highlanders last week. No-one can forget how they gave that game up, by conceding three converted tries in the last four minutes to lose 45-41, their eighth defeat of the competition, while several players must be wondering where they’re going to play their rugby next year after the team’s likely cut from Super Rugby.
Head coach Franco Smith is also currently wearing two hats as he’ll have at the back of his mind the Springbok Test series against France in June where he will take up the role of attack coach for the Boks.
So after coming unstuck against the Highlanders last weekend, Smith and Co have the Blues to deal with on Friday before moving onto a match with the Hurricanes in Wellington next week. Life is not being kind to the Cheetahs at the moment.
Then it’s off to Tokyo for a date with the Sunwolves; no easy-beats on home soil. Smith has made just three changes to the side that lost last Saturday.
Props Charles Marais and Ox Nche swap places, with the latter moving to the bench. At openside flank Niell Jordaan replaces the injured Paul Schoeman, and on the bench Clinton Swart gets a chance to face New Zealand opposition.
Umaga meanwhile hasn’t been able to pick Williams, but he has recalled fit-again All Blacks lock Patrick Tuipulotu and several other stars who’ve been on the sidelines recently.
Blues team: Melani Nanai, Declan O’Donnell, George Moala, TJ Faiane, Rieko Ioane, Piers Francis, Augustine Pulu, Akira Ioane, Blake Gibson, Steven Luatua, Scott Scrafton, Patrick Tuipulotu, Charlie Faumuina, James Parsons (capt), Pauliasi Manu. Replacements: Hame Faiva, Alex Hodgman, Ofa Tu’ungafasi, Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, Kara Pryor, Sam Nock, Ihaia West, Michael Collins
Cheetahs team: Clayton Blommetjies, Sergeal Petersen, Francois Venter (capt), William Small-Smith, Raymond Rhule, Fred Zeilinga, Tian Meyer, Henco Venter, Oupa Mohoje, Niell Jordaan, Francois Uys, Carl Wegner, Tom Botha, Torsten van Jaarsveld, Charles Marias. Replacements: Elandre Huggett, Ox Nche, Johan Coetzee, Armandt Koster, Uzair Cassiem, Shaun Venter, Niel Marais, Clinton Swart
Referee: Brendon Pickerill
Kick-off: 9.35am on Friday