The return of the Cheetahs' first-choice front row should stabilise their scrum against the Kings in Bloemfontein on Saturday, writes SIMON BORCHARDT.
Cheetahs coach Franco Smith opted to make six changes to the pack for his side's last tour match against the Waratahs in Sydney, with Ox Nche, Elandré Huggett and Luan de Bruin starting in the front row. The result was several scrum penalties for the Tahs, including four in the first half. By the 53rd minute of the match, Smith had brought Charles Marais, Torsten van Jaarsveld and Maks van Dyk off the bench, but by then the game was gone.
The coach is taking no chances this week, with his first-choice front row set to start against the Kings. According to SARugbymag.co.za's Opta-powered stats, the Cheetahs have a scrum success rate of just 69.5% this season, compared to the Kings' 87.7%, so the set-piece battle on Saturday could be decisive.
The Cheetahs will also need to improve their defence (they've missed the fourth most tackles and conceded the fourth most tries in the tournament) and discipline (no team has conceded more penalties) if they are to claim their first South African scalp.
The Cheetahs and Kings have both had poor Super Rugby seasons with only victories against the Sunwolves to show for their efforts.
The Cheetahs' 92-17 thrashing of the Japanese franchise in Bloemfontein saw them leave for their Australian tour with some confidence, but they would lose all three games, against the Rebels (36-14), Reds (30-17) and Waratahs (21-6).
Since beating the Sunwolves in Port Elizabeth, the Kings have suffered four consecutive defeats. They were humiliated 73-27 by the Jaguares in Buenos Aires and while they showed great fighting spirit against the Blues last weekend, the harsh reality is that they lost yet another game at home (34-18).
Home-ground advantage will boost the Cheetahs in this basement battle, but if the Kings can stay competitive for the full 80 minutes they could give their opponents a fright.
Apart from the changes to their front row, Smith has brought Bok lock Lood de Jager, openside flanker Paul Schoeman and No 8 Uzair Cassiem into the starting lineup for Saturday's match. In the backline, Shaun Venter regains the No 9 jersey and Michael van der Spuy is at 12, which sees captain Francois Venter shift to outside centre.
Meanwhile, Kings coach Deon Davids has had to make four injury-enforced changes, with Schalk Oelofse at No 4 lock in the absence of Steven Sykes, JP Jonck replacing Chris Cloete at openside flank, Aidon Davis coming in for CJ Velleman at No 8 and JP du Plessis replacing Stefan Watermeyer at outside centre.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Cheetahs 2, Kings 0
In Bloemfontein: Cheetahs 1, Kings 0
STATS AND FACTS
– This will be the third Super Rugby meeting between the sides, with the Cheetahs winning the previous two by margins of 14 and 12 points.
– The Cheetahs have lost their last two matches at home to fellow South African teams and have not lost more in a row to teams from their own country since losing three on the bounce across 2012 and 2013.
– The Kings’ last six away games have all been settled by margins of more than 20 points (won one, lost five).
– Sergeal Petersen has made an average gain of 11.8m per carry so far this season, the best rate of any player to make 10-plus carries.
– The Kings are the only side this season with a tackle success rate below 80% (79.95%).
|Team||Top point-scorer||Top try-scorer||Most metres gained||Most tackles|
|Cheetahs||Niel Marais (68)||Sergeal Petersen (6)||Sergeal Petersen (614)||Paul Schoeman (78)|
|Kings||Louis Fouché (57)||Chris Cloete (4)||Shane Gates (312)||CJ Velleman (115)|
Cheetahs – 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Sergeal Petersen, 13 Francois Venter (c), 12 Michael van der Spuy, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Fred Zeilinga, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 Uzair Cassiem, 7 Oupa Mohoje, 6 Paul Schoeman, 5 Francois Uys, 4 Lood de Jager, 3 Maks van Dyk, 2 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 1 Charles Marais.
Subs: 16 Jacques du Toit, 17 Ox Nche, 18 Luan de Bruin, 19 Henco Venter, 20 Carl Wegner, 21 Tian Meyer, 22 Niel Marais, 23 Nico Lee.
Kings – 15 Jurgen Visser, 14 Lukhanyo Am, 13 JP du Plessis, 12 Shane Gates (c), 11 Luzuko Vulindlu, 10 Elgar Watts, 9 James Hall, 8 Aidon Davis, 7 Thembelani Bholi, 6 JP Jonck, 5 JC Astle, 4 Schalk Oelofse, 3 Tom Botha, 2 Edgar Marutlulle, 1 Sti Sithole.
Subs: 16 Martin Ferreira, 17 Justin Ackerman, 18 Jacobie Adriaanse, 19 Cornell Hess, 20 Stefan Willemse, 21 Ntando Kebe, 22 Louis Fouché, 23 Leighton Eksteen.
Referee: Federico Anselmi (Argentina)
Assistant referees: Stuart Berry (South Africa), AJ Jacobs (South Africa)
TMO: Johan Greeff (South Africa)
Photo: Johan Pretorius/Gallo Images