The Cheetahs will be brimming with confidence when they host the Sunwolves in what should be an entertaining encounter in Bloemfontein on Saturday..
After winning the Currie Cup last year, big things were expected of the men from Bloemfontein and although they lost their opener to the Lions, they gained a losing bonus point in that clash and bounced back with a crucial win over the Bulls last weekend.
The Cheetahs will fancy their chances against the Sunwolves of course as last year’s corresponding fixture between these sides was a one-sided affair which the home side won 92-17.
Added to that, the Japanese-based side have made a poor start to their 2017 campaign by suffering home defeats against the Hurricanes and Southern Kings.
Under the guidance of their head coach Franco Smith – who was also added to the Springbok coaching staff on a permanent basis recently – the Cheetahs have made tremendous strides and are a competitive unit especially in Bloemfontein.
The Sunwolves know a daunting task awaits after another sluggish start to the season. The men from Tokyo’s tournament opener at home against the defending champions, the Hurricanes, highlighted the difference in class as the Wellington-based side dominated all facets of play before claiming a convincing 83-17 win.
Despite that poor performance, the Sunwolves had some good moments in their loss to the Kings last weekend.
They were on the back-foot for most of that match but never stopped playing and head coach Filo Tiatia will hope for a similar never never-say-die attitude from his troops against the Cheetahs.
It must be remembered, however, that the Kings are also one of the tournament’s underdogs and the Sunwolves should beat sides like that when they have home ground advantage.
The clash against the Cheetahs will certainly present a different and more daunting challenge as the Cheetahs have shown signs of improvement in their previous matches.
The visitors will do well if they manage to concede less than 40 points in this encounter.
The last time these teams met: The Cheetahs had too much ammunition for their hapless visitors and eventually secured a 92-17 victory in Bloemfontein last year. The home side dominated from the outset and held a comfortable 45-3 lead at half-time. They eventually outscored their hapless visitors by a whopping 14 tries to two with Paul Schoeman and Sergeal Petersen each scoring a hat-trick.
Players to watch: With the Cheetahs’ Springbok flanker Uzair Cassiem ruled out through injury, there will be added responsibility on the shoulders of fellow Bok back-row Oupa Mohoje this weekend. Mohoje was one of the stars in the win over the Bulls last week and showed his class by scoring a brace of tries and his fine allround effort was rewarded with the man-of-the-match award after the game.
Although the Sunwolves have struggled so far this season one player who has caught the eye is their number eight, Willie Britz. A strong ball-carrier and adept defender, who enjoys the physical nature of the game, Britz will have extra motivation to do well as he is going head-to-head with his former team-mates, having played several seasons for the Cheetahs before joining the Sunwolves this year.
Team news: The Cheetahs have made four injury-enforced and two positional changes for this fixture. Zee Mkhabela, Niell Jordaan, Francois Uys and Charles Marais replace Nico Lee, Uzair Cassiem, Reniel Hugo and Tshego Nche in the XV. Mkhabela comes in the wing so there is a shift to centre for Ryno Benjamin while Paul Schoeman is now flank to accommodate Jordaan. Uys replaces Hugo in the locks while Marais is at loosehead prop alongside hooker Torsten van Jaarsveld and tighthead Johan Coetzee.
Meanwhile, Sunwolves boss Filo Tiatia has made seven changes to his run-on side. There are two changes to the backline as William Tupou comes in at outside centre and Keisuke Uchida is at scrum-half, replacing Timothy Lafaele and Fumiaki Tanaka respectively. Up front it’s a brand new front row as Koki Yamamoto and Yasuo Yamaji are the props while Yusuke Niwai is at hooker, with Uwe Hela alongside Liaki Moli this week at lock as Sam Wykes drops to the bench. There is also a change in the back-row as Shumei Matsuhashi comes in on the openside in place of Shokei Kin for what will be a tough game in South Africa.
Form: The Cheetahs’ campaign started with a narrow 28-25 defeat in Bloemfontein against the Lions but they bounced back with an impressive 34-28 victory at home over the Bulls last weekend.
The Sunwolves made a disastrous start when they suffered a 83-17 loss to the Hurricanes in Tokyo, conceding 13 tries in the process. They then headed to Singapore where they hosted the Kings but the visitors proved to strong and eventually claimed a 37-23 victory.
2016: Cheetahs won 92-17 in Bloemfontein
2016: Cheetahs won 32-31 in Singapore
Cheetahs: 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Zee Mkhabela, 13 Ryno Benjamin, 12 Clinton Swart, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Fred Zeilinga, 9 Tian Meyer, 8 Niell Jordaan, 7 Oupa Mohoje, 6 Paul Schoeman, 5 Francois Uys, 4 Justin Basson, 3 Johan Coetzee, 2 Torsten van Jaarsveld (c), 1 Charles Marais
Replacements: 16 Danie Mienie, 17 Elandre Huggett, 18 Tom Botha, 19 Armandt Koster, 20 Henco Venter 21 Niel Marais, 22 Ali Mgijima, 23 Ruan van Rensburg
Sunwolves: 15 Shota Emi, 14 Takaaki Nakazuru, 13 William Tupou, 12 Derek Carpenter, 11 Kenki Fukuoka, 10 Hayden Cripps, 9 Keisuke Uchida, 8 Willie Britz, 7 Shumei Matsuhashi, 6 Ed Quirk, 5 Uwe Hela, 4 Liaki Moli, 3 Yasuo Yamaji, 2 Yusuke Niwai, 1 Koki Yamamoto
Replacements: 16 Atsushi Sakate, 17 Masataka Mikami, 18 Takuma Asahara, 19 Sam Wykes, 20 Shokei Kin, 21 Kaito Shigeno, 22 Jumpei Ogura, 23 Jamie-Jerry Taulagi
Date: Saturday, March 11
Venue: Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein
Kick-off: 17:15 local (15:15 GMT)
Referee: Rasta Rasivhenge (South Africa)
Assistant Referees: Jaco Peyper (South Africa), Quinton Immelman (South Africa)
TMO: Johan Greeff (South Africa)