An interesting match up this between two relative newcomers to Super rugby, both led by wily coaches. While the Cheetahs will feel that they threw away a game last week, the Force will know that they didn’t look like winning in Durban. Both teams are regarded as dark horses and will be eager to get their campaigns back on track.
While the Force haven’t suffered anywhere near as much as the Cheetahs from the player Exodus (Movement of Jah People), they have significant losses in the form of the ever dependable Cameron Shepherd and Matt “Fists of Stone” Henjack; the latter of whom is probably not going to be seen in the Blue of the Force again, but might well grace the ring of the UFC, if not the stage of the Jerry Springer Show.
It doesn’t take a Rob to predict that the Cheetahs will dominate the forward exchanges, despite the loss of players like Os, CJ, Ryno van der Merwe and Corniel van Zyl. They still have a very big tight 5 with the likes of the impressive Cobus Caldo, Wiaan du Preez and the Strauss’ sure to shine, while the Force lineout will hope that Nathan Sharpe dons his Air Jordans for what will be an interesting aerial battle if last weeks shambles against the Sharks is anything to go by.
The Cheetahs loosies seldom play a bad game, and in Brussow, Smith and Vermeulen (I forget his first name) they have an aggressive-tackling, hard-running trio. Of concern might be a possible lack of pace in comparison with young Pocock and retread 8th man Richard Brown (who like Ryno van der Merwe played most of his rugby as a fetcher); especially in light of the ELVs; this seemed to be a factor in the Bulls/ Stomers game last week.
As smart, brutal and organised as the Cheetahs pack is, the Force’s style of play and the cunning of coach John Mitchell will definitely benefit from the faster pace of the new game, especially if concerns about the Cheetahs’ fitness are well-founded. Ultimately the Force will be happy with parity or thereabouts with the Cheetahs pack as the boot is on the other foot with regard to the backs.
The Cheetahs are definitely not the same team without the unerring boot of Willem de Waal. The fact that penalties are much rarer now also means that teams aren’t faced with the prospect of de Waal stepping up to slot a 3-pointer as soon as they infringe from anywhere around their own 40 metre mark onward. Neither is he there to comfortably kick his team out of trouble (with the new 22 metre law that is not so easy anymore anyway), or to tigerishly defend his channel.
Jacques-Louis Potgieter is a talent in his own right, but he doesn’t have the kicking game and calmness that a team with the power-pack and limited backline of the Cheetahs require. Most of all, he has to face up to a world-class player coming off probably his worst Super rugby game.
Giteau will probably outshine his opponent considerably here, and if the Cheetahs pack is unable to dominate possession and slow down the game, the Force loosies and backs will probably cause severe problems by running innovative lines and varying the pace of the game. Giteau, Staniforth, Mitchell and Cummins revel in a loose game.
For the Cheetahs, Juan Smith is always key, while the front row will look to put the squeeze on their Force opponents. I also think that the performance of Meyer Bosman will be very crucial. He is able to take a lot of pressure of Potgieter, and last week seemed to have picked up from some great performances last year. Falien Oelshig will have to be smart with his option-taking and will be wise to take the conservative option most of the time.
For the Force, Nathan Sharpe will have to bring stability to the lineout, an increased physicality to the general play, and calm to his charges in the hostile Orange Outback. Daruda and Cross have question marks over them, so lets see how they go in their positions. Giteau will look to create space for his runners and one feels that he has to be on top of his game if the Force are to win.
Prediction: Two of the most inscrutable teams to make a call on, but I think the losses of both Shepherd and Henjack are a bit heavy, and therefore the Cheetahs could squeeze this one by less than 10.Tweet