Cape Town - The Free Cheetahs may be renowned for playing running rugby, but it is their kicking game that has received the most attention from the Blue Bulls ahead of Saturday’s massive Currie Cup encounter at Loftus Versfeld (3pm kick-off).
The Pretoria side just need to win to advance to the semi-finals. With the log-leading Sharks and second-placed Cheetahs already guaranteed spots in the semis, it’s a fight between the Pumas (third on 36 points), Bulls (fourth on 36), Griquas (fifth on 35) and outsiders Western Province (sixth on 32) for the remaining last-four spots.
But with Griquas and the Pumas facing off in Kimberley on Friday, one of them are likely to miss out, and the advantage that the Bulls have is that they will know exactly what they need to do by the time their match starts.
The best-case scenario for the Bulls would be for Griquas to lose and not get more than one bonus point against the Pumas in Kimberley, which would put them level with Jake White’s team on 36 points, with the Pretoria outfit already enjoying a better points difference.
But whatever the permutations are, Marcell Coetzee’s team will know that it won’t be as easy knocking over the Cheetahs as it was the Griffons in last Friday’s delayed 64-33 victory, in which they scored 10 tries.
The major change in the Cheetahs’ fortunes over the past two weeks coincided with veteran
Ruan Pienaar’s move from scrumhalf to flyhalf, which saw the 88-Test Springbok call the shots with his boot in a 29-29 draw with Griquas and in their 29-14 win over the Pumas in Mbombela last week.
The Bloemfontein side also have a powerful maul that has yielded a number of tries this season, which is why the Bulls are likely to call on some of their big guns who missed out on the Griffons game.
Defence and breakdown coach Sean Everitt said this week that there are no injuries from last week, and that the Bulls “have a full contingent to select from this weekend”.
“We’re just going to have to look at what combination is the best for us,” he added.
South African rugby icon Bismarck du Plessis will play his last game at Loftus this Saturday against the Toyota Cheetahs 🔥— Official Blue Bulls (@BlueBullsRugby) June 6, 2023
🎟️ Let’s give him the send off that he deserves: https://t.co/GaxpmUNqyK pic.twitter.com/7UaOeyGqa5
That should see Elrigh Louw return at No 8, where he will give the forwards some real cut and thrust as a big ball-carrier and use his considerable frame to stop the Cheetahs’ mauls, while senior leader Ruan Nortjé should be back at No 5.
The front row will be bolstered by hooker Johan Grobbelaar and Mornay Smith as well.
In the backline, hard-running centre Harold Vorster is sure to be back at No 12, but it will be interesting to see whether White continues with Johan Goosen at fullback and Chris Smith at flyhalf, or moves David Kriel to No 15 to accommodate Marco Jansen van Vuren at left wing.
“If you look at possession in their 22, and the strength South African teams have around their maul, discipline is going to be really important, so that you don’t give them those opportunities in your 22 – by them kicking for touch, and obviously playing off their lineout,” Everitt said about the Cheetahs.
“When you are going into semifinal and final, you want disciplined performances, because you don’t want to leak points – because the bonus point doesn’t count for tries.
“At the same time, if you look at our defence in the first 33 minutes (against the Griffons) – before the lights went out – it wasn’t the standard that we set ourselves. So, we are going to have to be really good there because they are not only a mauling team, but they do counterattack well.
“We also know that they’ve got a good kicking game, especially with Ruan Pienaar there, and they do have good kickers in the team, fullstop.
“So, we need to look after that. They out-kicked the Pumas by 15 kicks on the weekend, and put a lot of attacking kicks in, so that is a threat for us on Saturday.”
Goosen’s big boot could then come in handy from the back, but Kriel is excellent under the high ball and is capable of launching counterattacks as well.