Cheetahs forwards must step up

A new-look Cheetahs pack needs to do the business against the Waratahs on Saturday if they are to come away with something to show for their efforts in Australia, writes CRAIG LEWIS.

Once again, the Cheetahs have flattered to deceive in Super Rugby. The Bloemfontein-based team's only two victories this season have come against the Sunwolves.

When the Cheetahs hammered the Japanese side 92-17 in mid-April, there was hope that they could take some form and confidence into their matches in Australia. However, the Cheetahs have succumbed to losses against the Rebels and Reds, and will now face their sternest test Down Under when they clash with the Waratahs.

Against both the Rebels and Reds, the Cheetahs started well and took an early lead, but they then failed to sustain their efforts after the break, and in the end were unable to even bank a losing bonus point.

The Cheetahs are now set to face another considerable challenge against a Waratahs side that is fresh off a morale-boosting last-minute win over the Stormers.

The Tahs are a team renowned for their physicality up front, with the likes of monstrous lock Will Skelton in the pack, while another traditional second rower in Dean Mumm has been deployed in the loose trio, with captain Michael Hooper serving as their tackling and breakdown workhorse.

Against the Stormers, it was a Waratahs tighthead at scrum time that enabled them to secure possession, and ultimately for Hooper to go over for the match-winning try. It also won’t have escaped the Waratahs’ attention that the Cheetahs are ranked the worst team in the competition in terms of scrum success (70%), as illustrated by's Opta-powered stats.

Abrasive hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau, who came on as a tactical replacement during the first half of the clash at Newlands, will now start for the Waratahs in the only change to their starting lineup, while coach Franco Smith has made six alterations to the Cheetahs’ pack.

It’s an interesting move that sees Lood de Jager drop to the bench and fellow Bok Oupa Mohoje come into the starting lineup, with Smith having said this week that the Cheetahs set piece has been a focal point in training.

They’ve also spent plenty of time working on ensuring they exhibit better control when it comes to cleaning and rucking at the breakdown. These are sure to be key areas of the game that could well determine just how competitive the Cheetahs are able to be against the Waratahs.

If the Cheetahs pack can do the job up front, it will allow their undoubtedly talented backline to also have a say in the game, with captain Francois Venter returning from injury in what is a considerable boost.

This will be the Cheetahs’ final clash in Australia, with their forward pack and improving defence needing to deliver if they are to have any hope of producing a competitive showing in Sydney.

Overall: Waratahs 6, Cheetahs 4
In Sydney: Waratahs 4, Cheetahs 2

– The Cheetahs have won three of their last four matches against the Waratahs, although two of those wins were by a single point.
– The Waratahs have lost their last three matches on home soil, all by less than a converted try, with their last home triumph coming in the opening round of the season.
– This will be the Cheetahs’ third match in a tour of Australia in which they are yet to attain a win. They’ve won only one of their last seven matches away from home against Australian opposition.
– On average the Cheetahs have seen one of their scrums per game stolen by the opposition, the most of any team in the competition.
– The Waratahs have scored 13 tries from possession originating within their own half of the field, the most of any Australian team and the third most in the competition.
Source: Opta

Team Top point-scorer Top try-scorer Most metres gained Most tackles
Waratahs Bernard Foley (53) Israel Folau (6) Israel Folau (636) Michael Hooper (101)
Cheetahs Niel Marais (68) Sergeal Petersen (6) Sergeal Petersen (572) Paul Schoeman (78)

Waratahs – 15 Andrew Kellaway, 14 Reece Robinson, 13 Israel Folau, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Rob Horne, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Michael Hooper (c), 6 Dean Mumm, 5 Will Skelton, 4 Dave Dennis, 3 Tom Robertson, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Paddy Ryan.
Subs: 16 Hugh Roach, 17 Jeremy Tilse, 18 Angus Ta'avao, 19 Sam Lousi, 20 Ned Hanigan, 21 Matt Lucas, 22 David Horwitz, 23 Matt Carraro.

Cheetahs – 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Sergeal Petersen, 13 Nico Lee, 12 Francois Venter (c), 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Fred Zeilinga, 9 Tian Meyer, 8 Henco Venter, 7 Oupa Mohoje, 6 Willie Britz, 5 Francois Uys (c), 4 Carl Wegener, 3 Luan de Bruin, 2 Elandré Huggett, 1 Ox Nche.
Subs: 16 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 17 Charles Marais, 18 Maks van Dyk, 19 Lood de Jager, 20 Uzair Cassiem, 21 Shaun Venter, 22 Niel Marais, 23 Michael van der Spuy.

Referee: Nic Berry (Australia)
Assistant referees: Andrew Lees (Australia), Graham Cooper (Australia)
TMO: George Ayoub (Australia)

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Photo: Johan Pretorius/Gallo Images

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