Preview: Cheetahs v Highlanders – 05/05/2017

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The Cheetahs will be desperate for victory when they take on the Highlanders in their Super Rugby clash in Bloemfontein on Saturday.

The home side have struggled in 2017 and head into this clash in poor form having lost their last six matches while their opponents are on a five-match winning streak.

If one looks at the statistics from previous fixtures between these sides, then the home side will have to deliver their best performance of the season if they want to return to their winning ways.

The Highlanders have won eight of their last nine games against the Cheetahs, though six of those eight wins have been by margins of no greater than seven points.

However, the last match played between these sides, in 2015, saw the men from Dunedin winning by a 21-point margin.

The Cheetahs have scored 20 plus first half points in four of their last five fixtures at home, taking the lead into the break in each of those four games, though they’ve managed to win only two of them.

After winning five games on the bounce, the Highlanders will be brimming with confidence. The last time they won more was a stretch of six victories in 2005.

The Cheetahs have impressed with their goal-kicking and managed to successfully slot 89 percent of their shots at goal. That is a higher success rate than any other team in the competition.

Aaron Smith crossed for a brace of tries in his last game against the Cheetahs, and has been involved in six tries in his last three games for the Highlanders overall (1 try, 5 try assists).

Despite the Cheetahs’ poor form and although his side noticed a half century of points in their most recent match against the Stormers last weekend, Highlanders boss Tony Brown is not taking the men from Bloemfontein lightly.

“The Cheetahs are an adventurous side who play an attacking brand of rugby, and we’re anticipating a good battle,” he told the Otago Daily Times.

Cheetahs head coach Franco Smith, meanwhile, said although his side are battling they will continue with their free-flowing style of play.

“I still believe that the growth of this side is immense,” he told Sport24.

“To have a team play against the best every week is the only way to get better. We are a good team with ball in hand and we want to play best to our strengths.”

The last time the teams met: The Highlanders were in a rampant mood in their Round 14 clash in 2015, claiming a 45-24 victory in Bloemfontein. They outscored their hosts by seven tries to three with Ryan Tongia and Aaron Smith leading the way with a brace apiece. Their other tries were scored by Patrick Osborne, Gareth Evans and Ben Smith. For the Cheetahs, Francois Venter, Rayno Benjamin and Carl Wegner crossed the whitewash.

Team news: Cheetahs head coach Franco Smith has made five changes to his starting XV for this fixture. The big news in the back-line is the selection of Fred Zeilinga at fly-half where he replaces Niel Marais. Zeilinga will form a new half-back combination with Tian Meyer who takes over from Shaun Venter at scrum-half while William Small-Smith comes into the run-on side at inside centre in place of the injured Nico Lee. Meanwhile, in the forwards, Henco Venter starts at number eight which means Paul Schoelman, who did duty there against the Crusaders last weekend, shifts to the flank where he replaces Uzair Cassiem who drops down to the replacements bench.The final change is in the second row where Francois Uys is preferred to Armandt Koster.

Highlanders head coach Tony Brown has retained most of the pack that tamed the Stormers last weekend changing only Joe Wheeler from the bench to the starting XV and returning Luke Whitelock to the number eight position, who will captain the run-on side. Faddes comes in at full-back for the injured Ben Smith in an otherwise unchanged backline. Squad co-captain Ash Dixon returns from injury to play his first game of the year, meanwhile Elliot Dixon and Richard Buckman also make their way back into the 23 after a few weeks out.

Form: After losing narrowly to the Lions in their opener, the Cheetahs beat the Bulls and Sunwolves in their next two matches. After that, they suffered losses to the Jaguares, Sharks, Stormers, Chiefs, Bulls and Crusaders.

The Highlanders have hit their straps in recent weeks and are currently on a five-match unbeaten run after successive wins over the Brumbies, Rebels, Blues, Sunwolves and Stormers. Prior to that, their only triumph was away to the Blues in Round 3 as they suffered losses to the Chiefs, Crusaders and Hurricanes in their other matches.

Previous results:

2015: Highlanders won 45-24 in Bloemfontein
2013: Cheetahs won 36-19 in Invercargill
2012: Highlanders won 36-33 in Bloemfontein
2011: Highlanders won 24-21 in Dunedin
2010: Highlanders won 31-24 in Bloemfontein
2009: Highlanders won 32-8 in Dunedin
2008: Highlanders won 31-28 in Bloemfontein
2007: Highlanders won 21-17 in Invercargill

The teams:

Cheetahs: 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Sergeal Petersen, 13 Francois Venter (c), 12 William Small-Smith, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Fred Zeilinga, 9 Tian Meyer, 8 Henco Venter, 7 Oupa Mohoje, 6 Paul Schoeman, 5 Francois Uys, 4 Carl Wegner, 3 Johan Coetzee, 2 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 1 Ox Nche
Replacements: 16 Elandre Huggett,17 Charles Marais, 18 Tom Botha, 19 Armandt Koster, 20 Uzair Cassiem, 21 Niell Jordaan, 22 Shaun Venter, 23 Niel Marais

Highlanders: 15 Matt Faddes, 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Rob Thompson, 11 Patrick Osborne, 10 Marty Banks, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Luke Whitelock (cc), 7 Dillon Hunt, 6 Liam Squire, 5 Tom Franklin, 4 Joe Wheeler, 3 Siosuia Halanukonuka, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Daniel Lienert-Brown
Replacements: 16 Ash Dixon (cc), 17 Aki Seiuli, 18 Siate Tokolahi, 19 Elliot Dixon, 20 Gareth Evans, 21 Kayne Hammington, 22 Fletcher Smith, 23 Richard Buckman

Date: Friday, May 5
Venue: Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein
Kick-off: 19:00 local (17:00 GMT)
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen
Assistant Referees: Egon Seconds, Lourens van der Merwe
TMO: Willie Vos


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