Preview: Cheetahs v Highlanders

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Friday, May 15, 2015    James Mortimer    Getty Images

Sunday 17 May at 5.10am (NZST)
Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein

Played: 8, 2006-13 (DNP 2014)
Cheetahs wins: 1
Highlanders wins: 7

Cheetahs points: 179
Highlanders points: 211

Last match: Cheetahs 36 Highlanders 19 09.03.13 in Invercargill

Round 14 teams:

Form: The Cheetahs have won four matches this year, but have won two of their four last games while their most recent losses have been by one points (Reds) and five (Lions).

With a new coach announced, Franco Smith, in charge of the Free State Cheetahs Currie Cup team, will take over from Naka Drotske, the franchise has stability moving forward.

The new era – nearly 30 players departed at the end of 2014, is beginning to look brighter, and while they have lost three of five at home, they will be confident they have a lively enough game plan to rattle the Highlanders.

Things are beginning to get a wee bit nervous for those down in the Deep South, the side has looked the package no doubt, but they have lost two of their last three and slowly but surely their injury toll is rising.

With a huge finish to their season, playing the Chiefs, Hurricanes and Blues; grabbing competition points either in the City of Roses or Perth next week could be the difference if they are to go back-to-back as final’s participants for the first time since 1999.

Key Players: Many of the home side are unfamiliar to those outside of the Republic, with the Cheetahs fielding precisely zero Springboks in their match day squad.

Flanker Boom Prinsloo and hooker Torsten Van Jaarsveld are among the top ten tacklers in Super Rugby, while big lock Francois Uys has been one of the better aerial performers among the competition.

But a backline that has fired few shots will want to reload against a dangerous visitor, Francois Brummer will need to bring his men outside him into play often if they are to be a chance – Rayno Benjamin and Sergeal Petersen have enough speed to test the Highlanders.

The tourists will want more of the same, fielding a near full strength team, knowing full well that this is a banana skin match and points must be secured if the title is to remain on the horizon.

Nasi Manu and his forwards have been typically outstanding, but they are happy to take a backseat to their superstar’s out wide.

There isn’t a single player with double figures on their back for the Southerners that doesn’t scream danger, while Ryan Tongia has his work cut out replacing the firing Waisake Naholo.

Squad update: There are three changes to the Cheetahs starting team, two of them injury enforced, with the less than ideal news that Sarel Pretorius and Joe Pietersen – two of the Free Staters better performers – have been ruled out.

Brummer and Tian Meyer are their replacements in the playing axis, while the pack features just the solitary alteration, with Danie Minnie taking over from Caylib Oosthuizen at loosehead.

Two players make their debut for the ‘Landers, with Tasman lock Alex Ainley (who comes into the side for Tom Franklin), and Hawkes Bay winger Ryan Tongia who replaces the injured Waisake Naholo.

Ainley, a seasoned ITM cup campaigner, returns from a fractured jaw sustained playing club rugby two months ago, while league convert, Tongia, makes the team after less than a year in the game.

The only other change is at openside where John Hardie replaces Dan Pryor.