Cheetahs pack must take charge

The Cheetahs need their new-look tight five to fire against the Sunwolves in Singapore on Saturday, writes SIMON BORCHARDT.

The Cheetahs scrum has made an early statement this season. Having been schooled by the Lions up front during last year's Currie Cup, they held their own in their opening Super Rugby match against a Jaguares scrum that included six Pumas who started last year's World Cup semi-final against the Wallabies. Loosehead prop Charles Marais, hooker Torsten van Jaarsveld and tighthead prop Maks van Dyk all scrummed well and were able to put the Jaguares under pressure on a few occasions.

A week later, the Cheetahs at times dominated a Stormers scrum that had embarrassed the Bulls in the opening round. Marais won his battle against Stormers tighthead Vincent Koch and also got the better of Frans Malherbe when the Bok came off the bench.

Marais, Van Jaarsveld and Van Dyk have all been moved to the bench for the Cheetahs' third match of the season with Ox Nche, Jacques du Toit and Johan Coetzee getting starting opportunities. The Free Staters will also be without star Springbok lock Lood de Jager, who is being rested as per SA Rugby's agreement with the franchises, with Francois Uys joining Carl Wegner in the second row.

However, the Cheetahs should still have little trouble dealing with a Sunwolves scrum that struggled against the Lions in Tokyo in round one.

A strong platform up front will give the visitors' backs good front-foot ball from which to attack. According to the Vodacom Stats App, the Cheetahs have made the fourth most running metres (958) and clean breaks (20) after two rounds, and they should improve on those stats against a Sunwolves team that slipped 26 tackles against the Lions.

Cheetahs coach Franco Smith has opted to start Niel Marais at flyhalf and Sias Ebersohn at fullback, which will give his side more goal-kicking options. Fred Zeilinga, who has been relegated to the bench, missed four crucial goal kicks in the one-point defeat to the Jaguares and another against the Stormers, so whoever is given the responsibility on Saturday could keep their place in the team if they kick well.

The Cheetahs' task this weekend has been made easier by the fact that the game will be played in Singapore, and not Tokyo, which means they had to travel 'just' 9,000km and not 14,000km. And with a strong bench to turn to, including their first-choice front row, travel shouldn't be much of a factor.

This is the teams' first meeting.

– The Sunwolves' first and only previous match in Super Rugby was a 26-13 loss to the Lions in round one.
– The Cheetahs have won only one of their last eight matches against teams from outside South Africa.
– The Cheetahs ended their 2015 campaign with an away win against the Bulls and will now be looking to score back-to-back away wins for the first time since round 15 in 2013.
– The Cheetahs have scored all five of their tries so far this season in the first half, no team has managed to cross the line more often in the opening stanza.
– The Sunwolves are the only team so far in 2016 yet to concede a penalty goal, though they’ve kicked two of their own.
– This marks the first-ever Super Rugby match played in Singapore. The National Stadium's roof will be closed for the game.
Source: Opta

Team Top point-scorer Top try-scorer Most metres gained Most tackles
Sunwolves Tusi Pisi (8) Shota Horie (1) Yasutaka Sasakura (71) Ed Quirk (13)
Cheetahs Fred Zeilinga (15) Francois Venter (2) Raymond Rhule (192) Lood de Jager, Uzair Cassiem (22)

Sunwolves – 15 Riaan Viljoen, 14 Akihito Yamada, 13 Harumichi Tatekawa, 12 Yu Tamura, 11 Yasutaka Sasakura, 10 Tusi Pisi, 9 Atsushi Hiwasa, 8 Edward Quirk, 7 Andrew Durutalo, 6 Liaki Moli, 5 Hitoshi Ono, 4 Timothy Vond, 3 Shinnosuke Kakinaga, 2 Shota Horie (c), 1 Keith Inagaki.
Subs: 16 Takeshi Kizu, 17 Masataka Mikami, 18 Takuma Asahara, 19 Shinya Makabe, 20 Yoshiya Hosoda, 21 Kaito Shigeno, 22 Derek Carpenter, 23 Mifiposeti Paea.

Cheetahs – 15 Sias Ebersohn, 14 Sergeal Petersen, 13 Francois Venter (c), 12 William Small-Smith, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Niel Marais, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 Henco Venter, 7 Uzair Cassiem, 6 Paul Schoeman, 5 Francois Uys, 4 Carl Wegner, 3 Johan Coetzee, 2 Jacques du Toit, 1 Ox Nche.
Subs: 16 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 17 Charles Marais, 18 Maks van Dyk, 19 Reniel Hugo, 20 Hilton Lobberts, 21 Boom Prinsloo, 22 Tian Meyer, 23 Fred Zeilinga.

Referee: Quinton Immelman (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Shuhei Kubo (Japan), Aki Aso (Japan)
TMO: Takashi Hareda (Japan)

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Photo: Gerhard Steenkamp/Backpage Media

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