Preview: Chiefs v Cheetahs
Friday, March 27, 2015 James Mortimer Getty Images
Waikato Stadium, Hamilton
Played: 8, 2006-2014 (DNP 2011)
Chiefs wins: 5
Cheetahs wins: 0
Chiefs points: 217
Cheetahs points: 148
Last match: Chiefs 43 Cheetahs 43, 05.04.14 in Bloemfontein
Squad update: The Chiefs welcome Sonny Bill Williams back to their starting team, who will partner with Seta Tamanivalu at centre after Charlie Ngatai was ruled out.
Pauliasi Manu, Quentin MacDonald and Ben Tameifuna form a new front which comes up against a Cheetahs scrum weakened by the absence of international Coenie Oosthuizen.
Other changes for the two-time champions will see Tom Marshall coming into the left wing to replace James Lowe, with one of the Chiefs best attacking players so far this season dropping out of the match day squad.
Oosthuizen’s absence coincides with fullback Willie le Roux, with the South African side under similar ‘conditions’ as the New Zealand teams – with top Springboks and All Blacks to receive two weeks rest during the season.
Shaun Venter, Michael van der Spuy and Clayton Blommetjies come into the Cheetahs starting team, while Heinrich Brussow has been named to start for the second straight week.
Form: The Chiefs have been in fine touch so far this season but they have dropped two of their last three matches, putting the handbrake on the men from Hamilton after they were victorious in the opening three rounds.
The Highlanders gritty effort simply shut the Chiefs out of the game, while coach Dave Rennie believed lack of composure and a clinical edge prevented them from closing out the contest against the Sharks.
The Cheetahs are in a similar position, having won their opening two matches against the Sharks and Blues – before the Bulls, Sharks and Crusaders won by at least 17 points.
With 176 points and 20 tries conceded (resulting in the Cheetahs having the worst defensive record), the Chiefs will present a real threat for a visiting team missing the genius of Willie le Roux at 15.
Key players: Sonny Bill is, despite protests that rugby is a team game, the lead sabre of the Chiefs attack on so many occasions so his return will be vital.
Damian McKenzie adds plenty from fullback, while Aaron Cruden will look for a command performance, despite some stellar games he hasn’t been consistently imposing.
Japanese international Michael Leitch forms an impact based back row alongside Sam Cane and captain Liam Messam.
The Free State based locks, in captain Francois Uys and Steve Sykes, will be confident that they can get the edge over a home team’s second row, especially with Brodie Retallick missing.
Cornal Hendricks is one of the better right wings in Super Rugby, while Raymond Rhule and Joe Pietersen, despite being quite of late, have the ability to spark a side that is missing their premier offensive sword in le Roux.
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