The Blues will want to make it three wins out of three when they host the Cheetahs at Eden Park in Auckland on Friday.
The Cheetahs have never beaten the Blues in Auckland. In fact, they have a poor away record in general at the moment. They have lost 10 straight away games in a row, the longest drought they have experienced since 2008 and 2009 when they lost 13 games away from home in a row. Furthermore, each of the last six encounters between these two teams has been won by the home team.
This should make for an exciting game as both teams like to keep the ball in hand. We have seen that the Cheetahs prefer running rugby while the Blues average 18 minutes and 15 seconds in possession this season, more than any other team in the competition.
However, while the Cheetahs have been able to score tries, they concede too many and this has been their downfall. Last weekend, they scored six tries but conceded six as they went down 45-41 to the Highlanders. In fact, they have conceded 48 tries in their 10 Super Rugby games this season, almost five per game.
The Blues have lost half of their games (five out of ten) this season but these losses have only come against New Zealand opposition who have proven they are in a different class bracket. The Blues therefore have a one hundred percent record against teams outside of New Zealand and should prevail here.
The Auckland side are boosted by the return of Patrick Tuipulotu (starting), Kara Pryor and Ihaia West (on the bench). They are also hitting some good form at the moment with All Black flank Steven Luatua getting back to his best form.
The Cheetahs are on a seven match losing streak (home and away) and are desperate for a win. But the Blues are also desperate to make it three victories on the trot, a feat they haven’t achieved yet this season.
Blues coach Tana Umaga said ahead of the game: “Our playing group have had a big run of games and we will be looking for the players coming in to add some real energy to the team.”
“Last week we produced probably the best first half of the season but dropped off in the second half. We are still looking for 80 minutes of complete football.”
The last time the teams met: Joe Petersen was the hero on the day in a thriller of a match as his penalty five minutes from time ensured a 25-24 victory for the Cheetahs. The Blues scored through tries from Luke Braid, Charlie Faumuina and Jerome Kaino while the Cheetahs’ tries came from Sarel Pretorius and a Cornal Hendricks brace.
Team news: All Black Patrick Tuipulotu makes his return from injury for the Blues. Tuipulotu has been sidelined with a back injury since the round six clash against the Force, and comes into the starting line-up with Gerard Cowley-Tuioti moving to the bench after starting in nine of the 10 games this season.
Full-back Michael Collins and winger Matt Duffie, who have started in all 10 games this season, have the opportunity to refresh ahead of a busy next four weeks, including travel to South Africa and Samoa.
Melani Nanai returns to the starting line-up at full-back with former New Zealand Sevens player Declan O’Donnell to make his Blues debut on the right wing after a lengthy time on the sideline following impressive pre-season form.
Meanwhile, TJ Faiane makes his second start in the midfield in place of Sonny-Bill Williams who has not fully recovered from his concussion injury against the Waratahs.
Blues coach Tana Umaga said Williams was improving but it was considered prudent to take the opportunity to rest him this week with the demanding schedule ahead over the next month.
The Blues also welcome back a raft of players from injury who get their chance off the reserves’ bench. They include prop Alex Hodgman who will make his Blues debut, Kara Pryor who played 13 times last season, Ihaia West who has missed four games with an ankle strain, and half-back Sam Nock, while Hame Faiva replaces an injured Matt Moulds
Meanwhile, Cheetahs head coach Franco Smith has made three changes to his starting line-up.
After losing 45-41 against the Highlanders, Charles Marais comes in for Ox Nche at loosehead prop, with Nche providing cover on the bench, while Tom Botha is in at tighthead ahead of Johan Coetzee for this away fixture.
In the back-row the Cheetahs are struck by an injury to the in-form Paul Schoeman, as his spot is taken by Niell Jordaan on the blindside.
Form: The Blues will want to keep up the momentum, having won their last two games against the Brumbies and Waratahs. They started the season with a win over the Rebels before losing three in a row to the Chiefs, Highlanders and Crusaders respectively. They followed this up with back-to-back wins over the Bulls and Force but thereafter lost to the Highlanders and Hurricanes.
The Cheetahs are on a dismal run of form, having lost their last seven. Their season started with defeat to the Lions before promising
wins over the Bulls and Sunwolves. Since then it has been downhill for the men from Bloemfontein with losses to the Jaguares, Sharks, Stormers, Chiefs, Bulls, Crusaders and Highlanders.
2015: Cheetahs won 25-24 in Bloemfontein
2014: Blues won 40-30 in Auckland
2013: Cheetahs won 34-13 in Bloemfontein
2011: Blues won 29-22 in Auckland
2010: Cheetahs won 36-32 in Bloemfontein
2009: Blues won 46-12 in Auckland
2008: Blues won 50-26 in Bloemfontein
2007: Blues won 26-8 in Auckland
Blues: Blues: 15 Melani Nanai, 14 Declan O’Donnell, 13 George Moala, 12 TJ Faiane, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Piers Francis, 9 Augustine Pulu, 8 Akira Ioane, 7 Blake Gibson, 6 Steven Luatua, 5 Scott Scrafton, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 James Parsons (c), 1 Pauliasi Manu
Replacements: 16 Hame Faiva, 17 Alex Hodgman, 18 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 19 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 20 Kara Pryor, 21 Sam Nock, 22 Ihaia West, 23 Michael Collins
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 Niell Jordaan, 5 Francois Uys, 4 Carl Wegner, 3 Tom Botha, 2 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 1 Charles Marais
Replacements: 16 Elandre Huggett, 17 Ox Nche, 18 Johan Coetzee, 19 Armandt Koster, 20 Uzair Cassiem, 21 Shaun Venter, 22 Niel Marais, 23 Clinton Swart
Date: Friday, May 12
Venue: Eden Park, Auckland
Kick-off: 19.35 local (09.35 GMT)
Referee: Brendon Pickerill
Assistant Referees: Glen Jackson, Angus Mabey
TMO: Aaron Paterson