Sarel’s service crucial for Cheetahs

Cheetahs flyhalf Joe Pietersen will benefit from having the experienced Sarel Pretorius back on his inside against the Force in Perth, writes BRENTON CHELIN.

The Cheetahs have always prided themselves on their ability to enthrall. Even that seems to have eluded them this season. A positive start has given way to some mediocre performances, and the season is quickly becoming the slog most thought it would be for Naka Drotské's team.

Despite all the pre-season talk of defensive structures and overseas fact-finding missions, their defence remains as porous as ever – missing an average of 22 tackles a match.

What must be even more concerning for Drotské and co is the bluntness of their once-feared attack. Against the Brumbies, the Cheetahs managed just three points. Such returns simply aren't good enough for a side that boasts the attacking talent of Willie le Roux, Cornal Hendricks and Raymond Rhule.

The Cheetahs have missed the inventiveness and quick-thinking of Pretorius. Defensively, there will always be question marks over his ability, but as an attacking weapon, there are few better.

The Cheetahs' two best performances this season – against the Sharks in Durban and the Blues in Bloemfontein – came with Pretorius at scrumhalf. However, his partnership with Pietersen has been disrupted in recent weeks by injury and the birth of his child.

On Saturday, the two will start together for the first time since that victory over the Blues. The Cheetahs scored three tries in that match, following on from their bonus-point win over the Sharks.

The inclusion of Pretorius for the match in Perth is one of two changes to the Cheetahs side, with the other coming at loosehead prop, where Danie Minnie makes way for BG Uys.

The Force have made just one change to the side that fell short against the Sharks a fortnight ago, with Dane Haylett-Petty returning to the starting XV.

The Force will enter the match on the back of a bye week, and the Cheetahs need to take advantage of any rust that may have formed during that period.

If they can make a quick start, and apply pressure during the second half, the Force will provide them with attacking opportunities. It's what they do with those opportunities that will determine the outcome of the match.

Pretorius and Pietersen need to rediscover the form that took the Cheetahs to two early season victories. If they can do that, then the Cheetahs will fancy their chances against a Force side that hasn't won since the opening weekend.

Overall: Force 3, Cheetahs 3
In Perth: Force 2, Cheetahs 1

– After winning their opening game this season, the Force have since lost six in a row and have not lost seven in a row since losing the opening nine matches of their first season in Super Rugby.
– The Force have faced the Cheetahs eight times in total with six of those games being decided by fewer than 10 points; each of those six games saw fewer than 40 points scored combined.
– The Cheetahs have lost their last five matches and have not lost six in a row in a single season since the beginning of 2009.
– The South African side has shipped 180 points in those five defeats which have been at an average margin of over 21 points and no fewer than 10.
– The Cheetahs have averaged fewer carries (76.9) than any other team this season, while opponents of the Force have averaged the fewest as well (86.6).
– While the Cheetahs have averaged the most missed tackles (22.6) this season, opponents of the Force maintain the best tackling success rate (90%).

Team Top point-scorer Top try-scorer Most metres gained Most tackles
Force Sias Ebersohn (22) Adam Coleman, Alby Mathewson, Angus Cottrell, Chris Alcock, Francois van Wyk, Kyle Godwin, Luke Morahan, Mitchell Scott, Nick Cummins, Sam Wykes, Steve Mafi, Tetera Faulkner (1) Zack Holmes (230) Kyle Godwin (56)
Cheetahs Joe Pietersen (50) Boom Prinsloo, Francois Venter (3) Raymond Rhule (224) Torsten van Jaarsveld (66)

Force – 15 Dane Haylett-Petty, 14 Luke Morahan, 13 Kyle Godwin, 12 Luke Burton, 11 Nick Cummins, 10 Sias Ebersohn, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Ben McCalman, 7 Kane Koteka, 6 Steve Mafi, 5 Adam Coleman, 4 Sam Wykes (c), 3 Tetera Faulkner, 2 Nathan Charles, 1 Pekahou Cowan.
Subs: 16 Heath Tessmann, 17 Chris Heiberg, 18 Oliver Hoskins, 19 Angus Cottrell, 20 Chris Alcock, 21 Ian Prior, 22 Zack Holmes, 23 Marcel Brache.

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

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Photo: Mark Graham/AFP Photo