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PREVIEW: Cheetahs v Highlanders

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Thursday, May 4, 2017    allblacks.com    Getty Images

ROUND 11: Cheetahs v Highlanders, Saturday 6 May, 5.00am (NZT), Bloemfontein

FORM
Although the Cheetahs have dropped six games in a row, the Highlanders would be foolish to take them lightly. Against the Chiefs, the Cheetahs leapt out to a 24-0 lead before being overhauled. Then against the Crusaders last week, the Cheetahs applied a lot of pressure before succumbing 48-21. The Highlanders are on a hot run of form with five wins in a row, including their best performance of the year in last week’s 57-14 victory over the Stormers. 

After losing co-captain Ben Smith to injury, the Highlanders will lose nothing in the leadership stakes with the return of Ash Dixon to the match-day 23 for the first time in 2017. Despite being on the bench, Dixon has been named as co-captain and will be eager to make an impact following three months out of action due to a back injury. Dixon had a big season in 2017 which culminated in captaining the Maori All Blacks on their end of season tour. His return to action is timely for the Highlanders with the business end of the season fast approaching.

ATTACKING SPARK

After scoring 22 tries from their first eight games, the Highlanders found their attacking spark last week with nine tries in their 57-14 drubbing of the Stormers. While the outside backs cashed in on the score board, the forwards were also prominent with ball in hand. Lock Joe Wheeler showed his ball skills with a deft chip to set up a Matt Faddes try to underline the confidence of the Highlanders. Although they are missing talisman Ben Smith, there are still plenty of attacking threats in the Highlanders with Waisake Naholo, Patrick Osborne, Malakai Fekitoa and Liam Squire all looking dangerous with ball in hand.
FAST FACT
The Highlanders have won eight of their last nine games against the Cheetahs. Although six of those wins have been by 7 points or less.

TEAMS
Cheetahs
Ox Nche, Torsten van Jaarsveld, Johan Coetzee, Carl Wegner, Francois Uys, Paul Schoeman, Oupa Mohoje, Henco Venter, Tian Meyer, Fred Zeilinga, Raymond Rhule, William Small-Smith, Francois Venter (c ), Sergeal Petersen, Clayton Blommetjies,
Reserves: Elandré Huggett, Charles Marais, Tom Botha, Armandt Koster, Uzair Cassiem, Niell Jordaan, Shaun Venter, Niel Marais,

Highlanders
15 Matt Faddes, 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Rob Thompson, 11 Patrick Osborne, 10 Marty Banks, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Luke Whitelock (co-captain), 7 Dillon Hunt, 6 Liam Squire, 5 Tom Franklin, 4 Joe Wheeler, 3 Siosuia Halanukonuka, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Daniel Lienert-Brown
Reserves: 16 Ash Dixon (co-captain), 17 Aki Seiuli, 18 Siate Tokolahi, 19 Elliot Dixon, 20 Gareth Evans, 21 Kayne Hammington, 22 Fletcher Smith, 23 Richard Buckman