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Preview: Cheetahs v Blues

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Sportal.co.nz     29 Apr 2010     Getty Images

VENUE & TIME: Vodacom Park, Bloemfontein, Saturday May 1, 15.00 local (Sunday May 2, 01.00 NZT).

HEAD TO HEAD: Played 5 – Cheetahs 0, Blues 5.

LAST TIME: March 13, 2009 (Albany) – Blues 46-12 Cheetahs.

LAST TIME AT VENUE: March 1, 2008 – Cheetahs 26-50 Blues.

MATCH ODDS: NZ TAB (Wednesday): Cheetahs $2.80, Blues $1.40.

WALKING WOUNDED: The Cheetahs got good news on the injury front as loose forward Frans Viljoen and lock Walti Vermeulen were available for selection this week. Bjorn Basson, who did not tour for personal reasons, has returned on the wing. There were questions over WP Nel's fitness during the week, but he was eventually named in the side. Rudi Wulf and Luke McAlister have both returned home on parental duty, although McAlister injured a hamstring that would have made his selection doubtful anyway. Anthony Boric, now cleared of his ankle problem, and utility George Pisi have made the trip across. Skipper Keven Mealamu is battling a calf strain that will stop him starting and may rule him out of the 22 – the decision will be left as late as possible – meaning Jerome Kaino leads the side and Tom McCartney starts at hooker. A reshuffled backline has Rene Ranger and Paul Williams back in starting roles, with Anthony Tuitavake on the bench for the first time in 2010.

FORM:

PAST FIVE Cheetahs:
Round 7: Lost to Reds 10-31
Round 8: Lost to Waratahs 17-40
Round 9: Lost to Brumbies 15-61
Round 10: Lost to Crusaders 6-45
Round 11: Drew with Chiefs 25-25

PAST FIVE Blues:
Round 7: Lost to Waratahs 32-39
Round 8: Beat Bulls 32-17
Round 9: Lost to Stormers 21-33
Round 10: Beat Force 38-17
Round 11: Lost to Sharks 10-23

The Cheetahs surprised almost everyone by claiming a draw in a match they could have lost by 20 points had the Chiefs not missed every kick at goal and bombed a few other scoring chances – but in the end the Cheetahs deserved nothing less and could have snatched the game in its dying stages. The return of Juan Smith made a huge difference and getting home will only make the Cheetahs happier, so things are looking up in the camp for the first time in ages. The Blues followed a win with a loss – again – and this time it looks to have cooked their playoff chances even though they have a soft run home. Nine points off the pace means they need miracles, with all results having to fall their way in the upper reaches of the ladder while they must compile a perfect run home. Any punter prepared to say they can do it is either very brave, plain daft or clairvoyant, as their in-and-out form inspires little confidence.

WHO'S HOT: Just having Juan Smith on the field seemed to lift the Cheetahs last week and, while he was understandably not at his peak, he was an influential figure. Burly prop WP Nel has reason to be pleased with his form on the antipodean trip and a couple of close-range tries say he's a man to watch. Naas Olivier has not been the most consistent player at flyhalf but when he gets it right, as he did last week, he's decidedly handy. His goal-kicking is also sound, as he showed at Hamilton. Blues captain Keven Mealamu has played well this year but would love more consistent support from his fellow forwards. Alby Mathewson has shown his off-season move was the right choice with a string of good displays that must at least have the national selectors looking his way. Joe Rokocoko goes into this match with 99 first-class tries and must fancy his chances of bagging No 100 if the game opens up but, as always, the forwards have to get this thing started.

WE THINK: If the Blues are not fully focused this game could be tricky but everything points to the visitors collecting a decent win. They might now relax and cut loose in the backs although the tigerish Cheetahs pack may decide otherwise. Still, our call is a healthy Blues win and a bonus point in what may be a high-scoring fixture.

TEAMS:

Cheetahs: 1. Wian du Preez, 2. Ryno Barnes, 3.WP Nel, 4.Izak van der Westhuyzen, 5. Barend Pieterse, 6.Hendro Scholtz, 7. Juan Smith (captain), 8.Frans Viljoen, 9.Sarel Pretorius, 10. Naas Olivier, 11.Jongi Nokwe, 12. Meyer Bosman, 13. Corne Uys, 14.Bjorn Basson, 15.Hennie Daniller.

Reserves: 16. Skipper Badenhorst, 17. Corne Oosthuizen, 18. Walti Vermeulen, 19.Philip van der Walt, 20.Tewis de Bruyn, 21. Riaan Viljoen, 22. Sias Ebersohn.

Blues: 1. Tony Woodcock, 2. Tom McCartney, 3.John Afoa, 4.Kurtis Haiu, 5. Filo Paulo, 6.Jerome Kaino (captain), 7.Tom Chamberlain, 8. Viliame Ma'afu, 9.Alby Mathewson, 10.Stephen Brett, 11. Joe Rokocoko, 12. Benson Stanley, 13. Isaia Toeava, 14. Rene Ranger, 15. Paul Williams.

Reserves: 16. Tevita Mailau or Keven Mealamu, 17. Charlie Faumuina, 18.Anthony Boric, 19. Peter Saili, 20.Chris Smylie, 21. Daniel Kirkpatrick, 22. Anthony Tuitavake.

REFEREE: Marius Jonker