JOHANNESBURG – How are they going to keep the Highlanders out? That is the big questions about the Cheetahs ahead of their Super Rugby match in Bloemfontein on Friday evening.
Franco Smith’s Cheetahs have been hot and cold all season, scoring a fair number of tries, but also conceding plenty.
It is rather scary to think Smith’s men have let in a whopping 42 tries from nine matches, with only the Sunwolves, who’ve conceded 51, having a worse defensive record.
And with the likes of Aaron Smith, Patrick Osborne, Malakai Fekitoa, Waisake Naholo and Matt Faddes running at them, the Cheetahs are in for another massive challenge.
The thing is the hosts will probably match their visitors from Dunedin for enterprise with ball in hand, and they’ll also possibly hold their own up front, but they’re not likely to put together an 80-minute performance, something that has bugged them all season.
And again, with such a leaky defence, one’s got to wonder how they’re going to keep the Highlanders from scoring tries, especially with the Dunedin side coming off putting 50 past the Stormers last weekend and winning their last five games in a row. The Highlanders are certainly a team on the up, and among the best in form sides right now.
And not helping the Cheetahs’ cause is the fact that this week they’ll line up with a new 9-10-12 combination with Tian Meyer, Fred Zeilinga and William Small-Smith coming into the starting team, along with a few other notable changes from last week. Poor Paul Schoeman, such a terrier of a player, must be wondering whether he is Arthur or Martha so often has he been switched between openside flank and eighthman this year.
It is the Cheetahs’ third outing against a New Zealand side in four weeks and having already been given hidings by the Chiefs and Crusaders, one feels this may again be a challenge too far for Smith's men.
Cheetahs team: 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
Highlanders team: Matt Faddes, Waisake Naholo, Malakai Fekitoa, Rob Thompson, Patrick Osborne, Marty Banks, Aaron Smith, Luke Whitelock (capt), Dillon Hunt, Liam Squire, Tom Franklin, Joe Wheeler, Siosuia Halanukonuka, Liam Coltman, Daniel Lienert-Brown. Replacements: Ash Dixon, Aki Seiuli, Siate Tokolahi, Elliot Dixon, Gareth Evans, Kayne Hammington, Fletcher Smith, Richard Buckman
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen