Preview: Blues vs Cheetahs
- 21 Mar 2014
Two all-action teams with leaky defences face off in Auckland on Saturday as the Blues host the touring Cheetahs.
It's been some tour for Naka Drotské's men, who must be relishing the chance to get back to South Africa.
We're talking about a team that was outstanding on the road last season, yet shipped 60 points in Wellington and 43 in Brisbane, not to mention 35 against the Rebels – a game the 2013 class would have been expected to win and win well.
The attack isn't a major worry, with 74 points scored across those three games, but the defensive hole is impossible to ignore. Not installing a full-time defence coach, with Michael Horak off to the Kings, just seems foolish.
The Cheetahs remain full of running – their 2,036m is the most by any team this season – but their ball security and work at the ruck is a real concern with only an 89% success rate, the worst in the tournament.
Getting something out of this tour would be a huge morale boost, after competing well in parts against the Reds and Hurricanes but failing to secure a win.
The way the Blues have defended at times, last week in Johannesburg included, makes it seem possible. How a team coached by John Kirwan and Graham Henry can defend so abysmally at times is beyond comprehension.
There is, however, an eye-watering amount of talent in the backline, so much so that Benji Marshall has to settle for a spot on the bench this week.
Switching Charles Piutau to fullback gives the All Black more freedom to look for weaker inside channels and defensive chinks. Combine him with Frank Halai and Tevita Li and you have devastating pace for the top try scorers in the competition so far on 11.
Simon Hickey caught the eye when kicking his team to victory over the Crusaders the last time the Blues ran out at Eden Park. He appears to be a fine talent, possibly a breakout star of this year's tournament, benefiting from the immense experience of Piri Weepu on his inside.
But the best news for the Blues this week is probably the sight of two big names on the bench. World Cup winners Ma'a Nonu and Jerome Kaino should both get some action in the second half to pick on their weary visitors. The kind of experience that those two offer is essential.
Blues – 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Frank Halai, 13 George Moala, 12 Jackson Willison, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Simon Hickey, 9 Piri Weepu, 8 Peter Saili, 7 Luke Braid, 6 Steven Luatua, 5 Tom Donnelly, 4 Liaki Moli, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 James Parsons, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Subs: 16 Tom McCartney, 17 Angus Ta'avao, 18 Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 19 Jerome Kaino, 20 Hayden Triggs, 21 Bryn Hall, 22 Ma'a Nonu, 23 Benji Marshall.
Cheetahs – 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 Johann Sadie, 12 Rayno Benjamin, 11 Hennie Daniller, 10 Johan Goosen, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Philip van der Walt, 7 Jean Cook, 6 Boom Prinsloo, 5 Francois Uys, 4 Lood de Jager, 3 Nicolaas van Dyk, 2 Adriaan Strauss (c), 1 Caylib Oosthuizen.
Subs: 16 Ryno Barnes, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Rossouw de Klerk, 19 Andries Ferreira, 20 Lappies Labuschagne, 21 Shaun Venter, 22 Elgar Watts, 23 Howard Mnisi.
Photo: Johan Pretorius/Gallo Images
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