Coenie the key for Cheetahs

Coenie Oosthuizen has the opportunity to make a big statement when the Cheetahs host the Sharks in Bloemfontein on Saturday, writes BRENTON CHELIN.

Oosthuizen remains one of the most polarising figures in South African rugby. While most are in agreement that he's an international quality front ranker, there remains uncertainty regarding his credentials as a tighthead.

Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer persisted with the tighthead experiment during the end-of-year tour, while the Cheetahs have followed suit at the beginning of this season. Oosthuizen has shown signs of progress and, although he has yet to dominate in the No 3 jumper, his performances have been encouraging.

He troubled the Sharks in the opening round, while he more than held his own against Tony Woodcock, and was named Man of the Match in the win over the Blues. If he can continue on the upward curve against the all-Bok Sharks front row in Bloemfontein, he'll be well on his way to securing his spot on the plane to England later this year.

The Sharks were absolutely decimated in the scrums against the Stormers, with Matt Stevens receiving widespread damnation for his performance in the 29-13 defeat. He has mercifully been dropped from the match-day squad after giving up three tightheads in the opening quarter of the match at Newlands.

Tendai Mtawarira makes a welcome return from injury alongside Jannie du Plessis as the Sharks are able to field their full-strength front row for the first time this season. Elsewhere in the pack, Mouritz Botha returns in the second row, while Renaldo Bothma replaces the injured Willem Alberts on the side of the scrum.

The Cheetahs are not without changes of their own, as Sarel Pretorius and Johann Sadie return to add some attacking impetus among the backs. Up front, a late injury to Tienie Burger means Oupa Mohoje will continue at flank, while Heinrich Brüssow will make his first appearance of the season from the bench.

The Cheetahs have already shown themselves capable against the Sharks this season, and were deserved winners in Durban on the opening weekend. That victory was built on a dominant forward display and sealed by the accurate boot of Joe Pietersen.

The Sharks, with their new coaching structures and playing personnel have stumbled through the opening month of the season, and a failure to pick up a result in Bloemfontein will heap added pressure on Gary Gold and last season's South African conference winners.

Overall: Cheetahs 7, Sharks 8
In Bloemfontein: Cheetahs 3, Sharks 4

– The Cheetahs have won three of the last four meetings between the two teams, however all three wins yielded a losing bonus point for the Sharks.
– The Cheetahs have made fewer carries this season than any other team, an average of 67 per game, and have subsequently gained the fewest metres (260) per game.
– Only the Brumbies (3.3) have averaged more tries this season than the Cheetahs (three), however the Bloemfontein side also concedes the most points per game on average (30.7).
– Pieter-Steph du Toit has won more lineouts than any other player in Super Rugby this season, with 26 catches to his name in the set piece; he has also stolen a joint-high three lineouts.
– Willie le Roux has assisted five tries so far this season, two more than the next best performer in this category.

Team Top point-scorer Top try-scorer Most metres gained Most tackles
Cheetahs Joe Pietersen (33) Boom Prinsloo, Cornal Hendricks (2) Sarel Pretorius (101) Oupa Mohoje (34)
Sharks Pat Lambie (71) Cobus Reinach, Marcell Coetzee, Pat Lambie (2) SP Marais (333) Marcell Coetzee (42)

Cheetahs – 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 Johann Sadie, 12 Francois Venter, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Joe Pietersen, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Boom Prinsloo, 7 Jean Cook, 6 Tienie Burger, 5 Francois Uys (c), 4 Carl Wegner, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 1 Danie Mienie.
Subs: 16 BG Uys, 17 Stephan Coetzee, 18 Maks van Dyk, 19 Heinrich Brüssow, 20 Steven Sykes, 21 Tian Meyer, 22 Willie du Plessis, 23 Clayton Blommetjies.

Sharks – 15 SP Marais, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 JP Pietersen, 12 Francois Steyn, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Patrick Lambie, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Renaldo Bothma, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 Mouritz Botha, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis (c), 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Kyle Cooper, 17 Dale Chadwick/Thomas du Toit, 18 Lourens Adriaanse, 19 Marco Wentzel/Lubabalo Mtyanda, 20 Tera Mtembu, 21 Conrad Hoffmann, 22 Andre Esterhuizen, 23 Jack Wilson.

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Photo: Steve Haag/Gallo Images