Cheetahs hope to stop Bulls
Gavin Rich - SuperSport
Johannesburg - The massive respect the other teams have for what the Blue Bulls can do once they pick up a head of steam will probably ensure that most of the other Currie Cup coaches will be hoping that home ground advantage will be enough for the Cheetahs on Saturday.
Last year’s finalists clash at Vodacom Park in Bloemfontein in the headline game of the weekend, and if the first round match in Pretoria a month and a half ago is anything to go by, it is not beyond the realms of possibility the venue could see a repeat of last week’s epic test match between the Springboks and Wallabies.
The Cheetahs got home with a last-gasp touchline conversion at Loftus in a game that was typical of the high octane showdowns we have seen from these two excellent teams in the domestic competition over the past five seasons.
Since then the Bulls have faltered more than the Cheetahs have, with the Bloemfontein side going into the match in good form after a notable victory over Western Province in Cape Town followed by a hard fought but nonetheless praiseworthy triumph over their near neighbours Griquas in Kimberley.
Away victories are like gold in this competition, and both of those were achieved away from Vodacom Park. Will the Cheetahs take their game to an even higher level now that they are at home? They may need to, for the Bulls, although poor in most of their recent matches, picked up what looked to be ominous form in the second half against the Sharks last week.
For the Cheetahs then the objective on Saturday is to prevent the Bulls momentum from becoming a full-on charge or rampage, for both they and the other teams know how unstoppable the Super 14 and Currie Cup champions could become if that is the case.
Since the teams last met a few players have gone on to pick up invaluable experience during the home leg of the Tri-Nations, most notably Cheetahs captain Juan Smith but even more so, in the sense of his scrumhalf game being allowed to grow, the Bulls’ young Francois Hougaard.
Cheetahs coach Naka Drotske has said that his team’s primary task must be to stop Hougaard, for in the matches against New Zealand and Australia he showed how lethal he can be in attacking around the fringes and there is not much wrong with his kicking game either.
The Cheetahs have an odd record this season in that they have managed to beat both the Bulls and WP away, and yet have lost to WP and the Sharks at home. It is a record that might embolden the Bulls, who won there comfortably in the Super 14, as they make the short trip from Gauteng.
The winner of this game will end the weekend level with WP in second position. Province stand to drop away from that position - they have been in the top two since the opening weekend -- should they lose to the Leopards, but at Newlands and with several of their backline Springboks back, that is unlikely to happen.
The Sharks will go to Witbank for their match against the Pumas with a lot of respect for their opponents, who shocked the Bulls in Nelspruit just two weeks ago. Nonetheless, they should be expected to win with a bonus point to retain their comfortable buffer at the top of the log.
And the Lions should also continue their impressive run against a Griquas team that is hard to beat in Kimberley but vulnerable to a good team away from home.
But don’t bet your house on this one - Griquas were unlucky to lose to the Bulls at Loftus a couple of weeks back and pushed the Sharks for much of the way in Durban a fortnight ago.