Highlanders v Cheetahs preview



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Rugby Park, Invercargill, 19.35 (07.35 GMT)

The Highlanders are a much better side than what their position (10th) on the standings suggest. And so are the eighth-placed Cheetahs.

It is simply a case that neither side have been consistent enough this season. They’ve had their moments, but they also had those games where they were simply blown away by the opposition – the Highlanders last week by the Bulls and the Cheetahs in Week Four by the Crusaders.

But for the most part they have been competitive and with as bit more endeavour (not to mention a portion of good fortune) both could have been much higher on the standings.

But this is a game that has the “must win” tag for both teams, with the Highlanders perhaps just a touch more “desperate”.

Or as Cheetahs assistant coach Franco Smith said, they have their backs to the wall and know they can’t afford another defeat.

The Cheetahs will certainly look to build on the good performance they produced against the Brumbies a fortnight ago – a game the Cheetahs won (38-20) in convincing fashion.

“We are very realistic, we know the Highlanders are with their backs to the wall and they will be very aggressive and try to dominate us physically,” Smith said.

“That is where out biggest challenge will be – to match them physically and play at the same level as they do.

“To be honest against New Zealand teams we have struggled, because they were so physical. So we’ve worked hard to be more physical and improve that part of our game.”

Smith also spoke of the experience and vigour that the inclusion of All Black veterans Carl Hayman and Anton Oliver will bring to the team. They will both start their first Super 14 game of the season after completing the All Blacks’ World Cup reconditioning programme.

The Cheetahs feel they are geared for whatever the Highlanders or throw at them on Friday or whatever conditions they encounter.

“We want to keep the ball in hand and try to score four tries [for a bonus point]. But we do have Willem de Waal if wet weather forces us to play a territorial, kicking game. We’re certainly comfortable with either game.

“However, we are keen to score four tries and get a bonus point. It certainly won’t be willy-nilly running.

“What is nice is that we have the ability to play two types of games – we can run and play and expansive rugby or we can also play with our forwards, maul it up. We’ll have a look at conditions and make the adjustments.”

The one very interesting aspect of this game is that All Black hooker Anton Oliver, fresh from a World Cup reconditioning camp with the national team, also played the last time these two sides met in Invercargill (although the Cheetahs were then known as Free State) a decade ago.

The current management of the Cheetahs – coach Rassie Erasmus and manager Naka Drotsk’ – both played in the 1997 encounter (won 49-18 by the Cheetahs). Drotsk’ scored two tries and Erasmus one.

At least they know what it takes to win in this far-flung corner of the earth.

Prediction: The Cheetahs have an ideal opportunity to get back into the play-off race, but they will have to work very hard for it. The Highlanders will be physical, even brutal, but somehow it appears they lack the self-believe. The Cheetahs to win by 10 points.


Highlanders: 15 Glen Horton, 14 Lucky Mulipola, 13 Matthew Saunders, 12 Callum Bruce, 11 Viliame Waqaseduadua, 10 Nick Evans, 9 Jimmy Cowan, 8 Craig Newby, 7 Alando Soakai, 6 Josh Blackie (c), 5 James Ryan, 4 Kane Thompson, 3 Carl Hayman, 2 Anton Oliver, 1 Clarke Dermody.
Replacements: 16 Jason MacDonald, 17 Chris King, 18 Hoani MacDonald, 19 Hale T-Pole, 20 Toby Morland, 21 Charlie Hore, 22 Aaron Bancroft.

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

Referee: Stuart Dickinson (Australia)
Touch judges: Geoff Acton (Australia), Brent Murray (New Zealand)
Television match official: Gary Wise (New Zealand)
Assessor: Alan Riley (New Zealand), Keith Hendricks (South Africa)

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