Israel Folau's game-breaking ability could expose a weak Cheetahs defence in Bloemfontein and maintain the Waratahs' home semi-final hopes, writes RYAN VREDE.
While many thought the Tahs' 2014 title win would be a one-off, the Sydney-based side is once again at the business-end of the table and may yet leapfrog the Stormers into the remaining home semi-final spot.
Much of their success is to due to the dynamic Folau, who has built on his form of last year, proving once more to be a potent attacking force. Folau leads the tournament in metres run (1,342), is second in defenders beaten (54) and is at the top of the pile for tackle offloads (35).
Ominously for the Cheetahs, their defence has been dreadful. They've missed an average of 21 tackles per match, the second highest in the tournament. Wholesale changes to their starting XV won't help the hosts' defensive cause and they could be in for torment from the tourists.
Tactically the Tahs have engineered plenty of attacking opportunities for their fullback, particularly through defensive pressure that creates broken-field situations, which he is a master of exploiting. To nullify Folau's threat, the Cheetahs would have to starve him of possession through clinical ball retention and/or excellent tactical kicking, neither of which they are particularly good at.
In terms of the broader tactical picture, the Cheetahs have been a breakdown force of note this season and the Tahs will be wary of their strength in this facet of play. The absence of Heinrich Brüssow will diminish the power of their ground assault, but they remain very good here, while the Tahs are vulnerable, conceding the second-most breakdown turnovers in the tournament. They will have to remedy this deficiency or risk being exposed to the Cheetahs' threat from turnover ball.
The Tahs' incentive should see them determined to arrest their two-game losing streak against the Cheetahs. The hosts have nothing to play for other than pride, and that in itself is often an inadequate motivator.
New Cheetahs coach Franco Smith has made several changes for his first match in charge. Scrumhalf Sarel Pretorius, Shimlas flyhalf Niel Marais, Rayno Benjamin (as an inside centre), winger Cornal Hendricks and fullback Coenie van Wyk all come into the backline. Among the pack, BG Uys will start at loosehead prop, Tienie Burger and Boom Prinsloo swap places on the side of the scrum, and Niell Jordaan will make his Vodacom Super Rugby debut at No 8.
The Waratahs have made two changes, with Jacques Potgieter starting at openside flank, having made his return from injury off the bench against the Lions last weekend, and Matt Carraro coming in for the suspended Rob Horne on the left wing.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Waratahs 5, Cheetahs 4
In Bloemfontein: Cheetahs 2, Waratahs 1
STATS AND FACTS
– The Cheetahs have won three in a row against the 2014 champions, the last two victories in this run coming by a single point each. The previous three meetings were won by the Waratahs.
– The Cheetahs have won just two of their last 12 matches.
– The Waratahs have not been defeated twice in a row since May 2013.
– The Cheetahs have averaged the fewest defenders beaten (12.8) this season, while the Waratahs have averaged the second most (22.4).
– The Cheetahs are the only side yet to score a try from a scrum this season.
|Team||Top point-scorer||Top try-scorer||Most metres gained||Most tackles|
|Cheetahs||Joe Pietersen (92)||Boom Prinsloo (7)||Francois Venter (496)||Boom Prinsloo (170)|
|Waratahs||Bernard Foley (146)||Taqele Naiyaravoro (7)||Israel Folau (1342)||Michael Hooper (152)|
Cheetahs – 15 Coenie van Wyk, 14 Sergeal Petersen, 13 Francois Venter, 12 Rayno Benjamin, 11 Cornal Hendricks, 10 Niel Marais, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Niell Jordaan, 7 Tienie Burger, 6 Boom Prinsloo, 5 Francois Uys (c), 4 Carl Wegner, 3 Maks van Dyk, 2 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 1 BG Uys.
Subs: 16 Elandré Huggett, 17 Danie Mienie, 18 Ewald van der Westhuizen, 19 Seven Sykes, 20 Gerhard Olivier, 21 Henco Venter, 22 Shaun Venter, 23 Willie Le Roux.
Waratahs – 15 Israel Folau, 14 Taqele Naiyaravoro, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Matt Carraro, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Jacques Potgieter, 5 Dave Dennis, 4 Mitchell Chapman, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Hugh Roach, 1 Benn Robinson.
Subs (two to be omitted): 16 Dave Porecki, 17 Jeremy Tilse, 18 Paddy Ryan, 19 Dean Mumm, 20 Stephen Hoiles, 21 Patrick McCutcheon, 22 Brendan McKibbin, 23 Peter Betham, 24 Jack Dempsey, 25 Jono Lance.
Referee: Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Jaco van Heerden (South Africa), Lourens van der Merwe (South Africa)
TMO: Johan Greeff (South Africa)
Photo: Saeed Khan/AFP Photo