Cheetahs relishing battle of the packs

Cheetahs assistant coach Corniel van Zyl says they are looking forward to the intense battle against the Vodacom Bulls’ forwards in Bloemfontein on Friday. DYLAN JACK reports.

The Cheetahs are coming off a high after their 53-31 bonus-point victory over the Pumas in the first round of Super Rugby Unlocked, which had the team finish the opening weekend of the tournament top of the log.

It was a game where, as expected, the Cheetahs dominated possession and territory and had a plethora of attacking opportunities, while their forwards made easy metres with ball in hand.

GRAPHIC: Cheetahs vs Bulls teams

However, they are likely to face a very different challenge when they host the Bulls in Bloemfontein on Friday evening. Jake White’s team will have a number of Springboks among their forwards, with captain Duane Vermeulen returning to full fitness and joining the likes of Arno Botha, Marco van Staden, Jason Jenkins and Trevor Nyakane in the starting lineup.

It is a challenge that forwards coach Van Zyl says the Cheetahs will have to face up to if they are to beat one of their old rivals.

‘Naturally, we are going to have to stop their momentum,’ Van Zyl said. ‘It is always a nice forwards battle and intense match against the Bulls. I cannot wait to see it.

‘The Bulls will bring different challenges. It is always a physical battle against them. A lot will depend on how the forwards approach the game, how they can dominate. That’s probably what they are going to try and do. I am convinced that if our forwards hit the ground running and give our backs good ball, then we can do something.

‘The approach when you are playing against the Bulls is that from numbers one to eight and 16 to 21, your players have to be physical.’

The Bulls are also coming off a win – albeit in very different circumstances as they had to score two late tries to beat a dogged Griquas team in Pretoria, where they were at times not at their best.

However, Van Zyl added that the Cheetahs aren’t reading too much into that game and are expecting a very different performance from the Bulls on Friday.

‘It is difficult to say. Teams have on days and off days. I personally think that Griquas put them under good pressure in certain aspects of the game like the breakdowns. Griquas did really well at the breakdown and did very well to defend a couple of early mauls. They started well and turned up physically. They were ready for the match.

‘I think more credit has to go to Griquas. The Bulls are a good team on paper but didn’t perform. I don’t think you can read too much into it. The Bulls are always going to be a massive challenge. I think a very different team will turn up [in Bloemfontein].’

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Photo: Frikkie Kapp/Gallo Images