Teams for Bloem­fontein

Cheetahs are on the move, Bulls in the way

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FRONT PAGE - JAC­QUES VAN DER WESTHUYZEN AND VATA NGOBENI

RIGHT, where does one start? There are sev­eral rea­sons why Franco Smith’s Cheetahs are hot favourites to cap­ture the Cur­rie Cup ti­tle to­day and it re­ally would be a huge sur­prise if they weren’t crowned cham­pi­ons in Bloem­fontein.

For starters, they are on home soil and in front of their own fans and we all know what a dif­fer­ence that makes in one- off games. They’ll feed off the crowd who are as des­per­ate for suc­cess af­ter a few lean years.

Fur­ther­more, Smith’s men are a set­tled bunch since get­ting to­gether a lit­tle over a year ago. They un­der­stand one an­other and haven’t been dis­rupted by na­tional callups or play­ers leav­ing for over­seas; they’re a tight- knit team who’ve smashed ev­ery­one they’ve come up against in 2016.

Un­beaten af­ter nine straight wins, in­clud­ing last week­end’s semi- fi­nal ham­mer­ing of the 2015 cham­pi­ons, the Lions, has en­sured they’re a con­fi­dent lot.

There are few weak­nesses in the make- up of the side picked by Smith; the set-pieces will be solid and with loose for­wards Paul Schoe­man and Uzair Cassiem in sen­sa­tional form, the Cheetahs will be very com­pet­i­tive at the break­downs and in the col­li­sions.

But what has set them apart this year is their abil­ity to keep the ball alive for long pe­ri­ods and keep ask­ing ques­tions of the op­po­si­tion.

Their backs have been dan­ger­ous with ball in hand, al­most scor­ing tries at will, but they’ve also added steel to their de­fence.

Fly­half Niel Marais has also been spot on with his goal- kick­ing; so there are no weak points for the Blue Bulls to tar­get. The Cheetahs are a team on the move.

The Bulls, mean­while, have been writ­ten off and told they stand no chance of stop­ping the wreck­ing ball that is the Free State out­fit.

But they have not taken any pre­dic­tions to heart and have opted to live in their own world in the be­lief that they can defy the odds.

And they can do what the Bulls of 2002 and 2006 did in win­ning and draw­ing the Cur­rie Cup fi­nal against the Lions and the Cheetahs re­spec­tively, hav­ing gone in as over­whelm­ing un­der­dogs.

The Bulls scrum has looked more as­sured in the last five games lead­ing up to the fi­nal.

The set- piece has not only been a dom­i­nant facet of play where they are able to launch at­tacks but they also use it as a source of milk­ing valu­able penal­ties.

Gain­ing dom­i­nance over the Cheetahs will start at scrum­time and with strong and com­pe­tent front- rankers in the start­ing lineup and on the bench, the Bulls will look to this area to turn the game on its head.

The li­ne­out is an­other area Clay­ton Blom­metjies, Sergeal Petersen, Fran­cois Venter (cap­tain), Nico Lee, Ray­mond Rhule, Niel Marais, Shaun Venter, Niell Jor­daan, Uzair Cassiem, Paul Schoe­man, Re­niel Hugo, Justin Bas­son, Jo­han Coet­zee, Torsten van Jaarsveld, Charles Marais. Bench: Jac­ques du Toit, Ox Nche, Ar­mandt Koster, Henco Venter, Tian Meyer, Fred Zeilinga, Rayno Ben­jamin, Con­rad van Vu­uren. Ul­rich Bey­ers, Travis Is­maiel, Dries Swanepoel, Burger Oden­daal, Jamba Ulengo, Tian Schoe­man, Rudy Paige, Arno Botha (cap­tain), Jannes Kirsten, Roelof Smit, Marvin Orie, Ja­son Jenk­ins, Ja­co­bie Adri­aanse, Jaco Vis­agie, Lizo Gqoboka. Bench: Ban­dise Maku, Martin Dreyer, Pierre Schoe­man, Nic de Jager, Hanro Lieben­berg, Piet van Zyl, Joshua Stander, Bjorn Bas­son. where they are un­matched this sea­son and with the form that Marvin Orie has been in, the dif­fi­culty for op­po­si­tion teams is not in try­ing to steal pos­ses­sion but in also mak­ing sure that they re­tain their own.

The loss of RG Sny­man will be huge for the Bulls in the li­ne­outs and with ball- car­ry­ing du­ties, but Ja­son Jenk­ins has shown that he has all the at­tributes to be ef­fec­tive at dis­rupt­ing op­po­si­tion ball while he also does the don­key’s work in the en­gine­room.

The game could be won or lost at the break­down and this is where the Bulls will have an edge through the pow­ers of open­side flank Roelof Smit.

Smit, is an outand- out fetcher and his abil­ity to get to the break­down quickly gives him an ad­van­tage and he will be key in deny­ing the quick ball that the Cheetahs thrive on.

Deny the Free Staters pos­ses­sion and they can’t play their nat­u­ral run­ning game, and this will play into the hands of the Bulls who are adept at a war of at­tri­tion and the ex­pan­sive game.

The hard and di­rect run­ning of Jannes Kirsten and Arno Botha will be a threat and if they can get over the ad­van­tage line at will, then they will set up out­side backs Jamba Ulengo and Travis Is­maiel to wreak havoc against a de­fen­sive line that is dis­jointed.

The key for the Bulls will be for their de­fence to hold firm un­der siege against the elu­sive and light­ning- fast Cheetahs at­tack, while us­ing the ball ef­fec­tively to punch holes in the de­fence.

As solid as the Cheetahs de­fence has been all sea­son long, they are yet to be tested for long pe­ri­ods and with the Bulls abil­ity to re­tain pos­ses­sion, the hosts will face the ul­ti­mate test of whether they can han­dle the medicine they have dished out to oth­ers.

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