Cape Town - The
Cheetahs will become the first Super Rugby side to face newcomers the
Sunwolves twice when they meet in a Super Rugby clash in Bloemfontein on Friday.
The Japanese outfit suffered a Round 3 loss courtesy of a 77th minute try from replacement flank Boom Prinsloo, which allowed the visitors to edge their hosts 32-31 at the Singapore National Stadium.
The Bloemfontein outfit are coming off a bye weekend in Round 7 and will fancy their chances to make it two from two against the new kids on the block, after a dominating display in the set pieces despite the 23-18 loss to three-time champions the Bulls in Round 6.
They do possess the ability to be competitive in matches given the fact that they have lost two of their matches with seven or less points.
It will certainly be a tough ask for the Sunwolves to outclass their opponents after having been on the road since the end of March, with losses to the Kings and the Stormers.
To add injury to insult, the Sunwolves have been dealt a blow with their top try scorer Akihito Yamada set to be out for three weeks due to injury after the 30-year-old wing sustained a knock in their 46-19 loss to the Stormers in Cape Town last week.
The Japanese outfit have been found to be a little lethargic on defence at critical times and against teams that are quick to recycle the ball - much like the Cheetahs - which will make them very vulnerable, given the Stormers exploited this very well running in seven tries last week.
The lock pairing of Lood de Jager and Francois Uys have dominated the lineouts and will hope to continue their form at the set piece, given the pair have won the most lineouts on their own throw in the competition.
However, with the departure of Francois Brummer to the Bulls and Joe Pietersen to the Sharks, the home side must be regretting not having an accurate kicker, they have the worse goal-kicking conversion percentage by any team.
Their flamboyant back three - Clayton Blommetjies, Sergeal Petersen and Raymond Rhule - certainly make up for the poor form from the tee, with Petersen crossing the whitewash on three occasions.
The Sunwolves, on the other hand, have the worse lineout retention figure - securing only 76 percent of their lineouts - the Cheetahs pack will definitely be targeting this area to secure quality first phase ball.
With Samoan flyhalf Tusi Pisi returning to the starting line-up, after being rested in Round 7, this will certainly boost the confidence amongst the backs. The 33-year-old has played a vital role in ensuring that the ball reaches the likes of Viliami Lolohea and the side's top scorer Yamada, the latter being sidelined due to injury.
Another alarming reality for the home side is that they have conceded 65 penalties and with a better striking accuracy from the tee, Pisi's form might just be the difference that the Japanese outfit need.
The visitors will also be relying heavily on the Samoan No 10's experience to guide them, both on attack and defence.
The Sunwolves have become known for their opportunistic nature on the loose ball and given the Cheetahs' enormous amount of handling errors (19) in Round 6, the visitors might just fancy their chances to bag that maiden win.
Last time these teams met: A 77th minute try from Cheetahs' Boom Prinsloo robbed the Sunwolves of recording their maiden victory. The home side enjoyed a comfortable 31-13 lead early in the second half. Despite a first half hat-trick from the sensational Akihito Yamada the hosts completely fell apart in the second half with Prinsloo's try coming after the men from Bloemfontein mauled their way over the tryline for the match winning score.
Players to watch: Cheetahs captain Francois Venter has been gaining metres with ease, week after week. The
centre has beaten 15 defenders so far this season. Scrumhalf Shaun Venter has been ensuring that the talented Cheetahs backline receive quality ball. If the Sunwolves have any hope of winning this one they will have to close the space around the fringes by restricting the number nine.
Flyhalf Tusi Pisi's return to the fold will be welcomed by the Sunwolves. The flyhalf has beaten five defenders and guided a struggling side. South African Riaan Viljoen has been instrumental in dictating matters on attack for the Sunwolves and the fullback crossed the line on two occassion in their 46-19 loss at Newlands.
2016: Cheetahs won 32-31 in Singapore
Team news: Springbok flank Oupa Mohoje will make his long-awaited return from injury off the bench. Head
coach Franco Smith has made a number of alterations to his starting
line-up, as Charles Marais moves to the starting line-up replacing Ox
Nche at loosehead prop. Maks
van Dyk and Johan Coetzee switch places with Van Dyk starting at
tighthead prop and Coetzee on the bench. Hilton Lobberts will be
replacing the injured Prinsloo, who is set to miss the rest of the
season with a hamstring injury. Captain Francois Venter and Nico Lee will be switching places with Venter at inside centre and Lee on his outside.
Meanwhile, Sunwolves head coach Mark Hammett has made a number of changes to his math-day squad. Flank Liaki Moli moves to the second row in place of suspended Timothy Bond and sees him pair up with Hitoshi Ono in a new-look lock duo. Tomás Leonardi shifts to the side of the scrum and Ed Quirk moves to No 8 and Andrew Durutalo joins them in the back row. In the backline, star playmaker Tusi Pisi retuns to the starting line-up in place of Yu Tamura. In a rotational shift, Mifiposeti Paea moves from centre to the wing in place of the injured Yamada. Harumichi Tatekawa pairs up with Derek Carpenter in the midfield.
Form: The Cheetahs have secured only one victory for the this season thus far, their solo win came against the Sunwolves in Singapore back in Round 3. Narrow loses to the Jaguares in the opening round, the Brumbies in Round 5 and the Bulls last week in Pretoria sees them in third position on the Africa One Conference table. They will go into this one as the firm favourites to secure a victory perhaps even a try-scoring bonus point win.
The Sunwolves on the other hand have not been on the right side of the scoreboard, losing all of their matches this season. Their only real chance, apart from the one point loss to the Cheetahs in Singapore, was against fellow new boys the Kings in Port Elizabeth in Round 6. The Japanese suffered a close defeat to the Bulls, but with bigger margin losses against the Lions, the Rebels and the Stormers they find themselves in last position, four points adrift of the Cheetahs on the Africa One Conference table.
Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Sergeal Petersen, 13 Nico Lee, 12 Francois
Venter (captain), 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Niel Marais, 9 Shaun Venter, 8
Paul Schoeman, 7 Uzair Cassiem, 6 Hilton Lobberts, 5 Francois Uys, 4
Lood de Jager, 3 Maks van Dyk, 2 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 1 Charles Marais
Substitutes: 16 Jacques du Toit, 17 Danie Minnie, 18 Johan
Coetzee, 19 Carl Wegner, 20 Henco Venter, 21 Oupa Mohoje, 22 Tian Meyer,
23 Fred Zeilinga
15 Riaan Viljoen, 14 Viliami Lolohea, 13 Harumichi Tatekawa 12 Derek Carpenter, 11 Mifiposeti Paea, 10 Tusi Pisi, 9 Yuki Yatomi, 8 Ed Quirk, 7 Andrew Durutalo, 6 Tomás Leonardi, 5 Liaki Moli, 4 Hitoshi Ono, 3 Takuma Asahara, 2 Shota Horie (captain), 1 Masataka Mikami
Substitutes: 16 Takeshi Kizu, 17 Ziun Gu, 18 Shinnosuke Kakinaga, 19 Faatiga Lemalu, 20 Yoshiya Hosoda, 21 Kaito Shigeno, 22 Yu Tamura, 23 Yasutaka Sasakur
Date: Friday, April 15
Venue: Toyota Stadium, Bloemfontein
Kick-off: 19:00 local
Referee: Nic Berry
Assistant referees: Angus Gardner, Lourens van der Merwe
TMO: Marius Jonker