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Blues v Cheetahs preview

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Eden Park, Auckland, 19.35 (07.35 GMT)

Cheetahs manager Naka Drotsk’ repeatedly said this week that he regards this as his team’s toughest game on their five-match Australasian tour.

He may well be right. His team may well be in for a long and difficult day at the office.

“The Blues’ record speaks for itself, especially in Auckland,” was Drotsk”s refrain this week.

He backed that up with: “They are a well balanced team – with a powerful set of forwards and some incredible game breakers in the backs. They are also very physical, so it will be our toughest test without doubt.

“Add to that our injuries and we know it will be a real test of character for the youngsters.”

The fact is that the Cheetahs are without a host of their seasoned Springboks and other top stars at a time when the high-flying Blues welcome back their All Blacks.

The Cheetahs are minus Os du Randt, CJ van der Linde, Juan Smith, Ryno van der Merwe, Richardt Strauss (although he is on the bench he will only play in an emergency) Ronnie Cooke.

This against a team that features All Black stalwarts like Ali Williams and Keven Mealamu in the starting XV for the first time.

Blues coach David Nucifora was full of praise for the Cheetahs and their coaching staff this week, but it may have been the courtesy of a host rather than an attempt to seriously talk them up as a threat to the Blues.

“They are a very well-prepared team. I think they are a very well coached team. They are well organised,” Nucifora said this week.

“They probably haven’t had all the results go their way but if they get it right on the day they can be an extremely dangerous side. We are very much aware of what they have to offer.

“They have a strong pack, they also have a very capable backline. And they have the ability to play the game different ways – they can play close, they can play wide and they are quite dangerous on the counter-attack.

“So we are mindful that we have to be on our game right across the field.”

If it wasn’t that the Cheetahs were so depleted, Nucifora’s statements would have made sense.

One would tend to rather believe Drotsk”s version of the match.

It would take something quite extraordinary for the Cheetahs to win this one. They are a team with plenty of talent and lots of energy.

However, the Blues ooze pure class all over the park and look quite unstoppable.

Prediction: This could be one-way traffic. In fact the Cheetahs will do well to keep the margin below 20 points. The Blues to win by 20 points or more.

Teams:

Blues: 15 Ben Atiga, 14 Doug Howlett, 13 Isaia Toeava, 12 Sam Tuitupou, 11 Anthony Tuitavake, 10 Isa Nacewa, 9 Steve Devine, 8 Jerome Kaino, 7 Daniel Braid, 6 Justin Collins, 5 Troy Flavell (c), 4 Ali Williams, 3 John Afoa, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Tony Woodcock
Replacements: Derren Witcombe, Nick White, Greg Rawlinson, Angus Macdonald, David Gibson, David Holwell, Joe Rokocoko

Cheetahs: 15 Bevin Fortuin, 14 Eddie Fredericks, 13 Marius Joubert, 12 Meyer Bosman, 11 Tiger Mangweni, 10 Herkie Kruger, 9 Michael Claassens, 8 Kabamba Floors, 7 Duane Vermeulen, 6 Heinrich Brussouw, 5 Corniel van Zyl, 4 Rory Duncan, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Hans van Dyk, 1 Ollie le Roux (c)
Replacements: 16 Richardt Strauss, 17 Wian du Preez, 18 Dewald Senekal, 19 Bian Vermaak, 20 Falie Oelschig, 21 Willem de Waal, 22 Philip Burger

Referee: Paul Marks (Australia)
Touch judges: Dan Cheever (Australia), Kelvin Deaker (New Zealand)
Television match official: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)
Assessor: Alan Riley (New Zealand), Dennis Immelman (South Africa)

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