Cape Town - Cheetahs captain Francois Venter is looking forward to having Niel Marais as his midfield partner in Saturday’s Super Rugby clash against the Stormers at Newlands.
Coach Franco Smith surprised on Thursday when he picked Marais - who normally operates at flyhalf - at inside centre, with Nico Lee moving to the bench.
At 1.82m and 98kg, Marais is big for a flyhalf and will be used in midfield to expose a suspect Stormers defence.
The Capetonians are unbeaten after four matches in 2017, but their leaky defence has been criticised.
They conceded four tires against the Sunwolves last weekend which prompted former Springbok coach Nick Mallett to say: “The defence of the Stormers is really worrying. The defence was slow off the line and without communication and density. The Stormers have problems in defence,” Mallett said in the SuperSport studio last weekend.
Commenting on Marais’ inclusion at No 12, Venter told Netwerk24 on Thursday: “Niel brings something completely different to the game and it’s a good opportunity for him. He has done well thus far coming on as a substitute at No 12 and he carries the ball nicely. He also has an eye for a gap and hopefully we can complement each other in midfield.”
There was also good news for Venter on Thursday after he was cleared after struggling with a hamstring niggle.
In changes up front, Charles Marais and Ox Nche swap places, with Marais starting at loosehead prop and Nche on the bench.
Armandt Koster also replaces Justin Basson at lock.
In other changes to the backline, Sergeal Petersen makes his return from knee and hamstring injuries, replacing JW Jonker who stepped in for him last week.
Meanwhile, Obi Luther - who was recently recruited from the Bulls - replaces Rayno Benjamin on the bench and will make his Super Rugby debut if called upon.
Saturday’s clash is scheduled for 15:05.
15 SP Marais, 14 Cheslin Kolbe, 13 EW Viljoen, 12 Dan du Plessis, 11 Dillyn Leyds, 10 Robert du Preez, 9 Jano Vermaak, 8 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 7 Siya Kolisi (captain), 6 Cobus Wiese, 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 JC Janse van Rensburg
Substitutes: 16 Ramone Samuels, 17 Caylib Oosthuizen, 18 Oli Kebble, 19 Chris van Zyl, 20 Nizaam Carr, 21 Dewaldt Duvenage, 22 Kurt Coleman, 23 Dan Kriel
15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Sergeal Petersen, 13 Francois Venter (captain), 12 Niel Marais, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Fred Zeilinga, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 Henco Venter, 7 Oupa Mohoje, 6 Paul Schoeman, 5 Francois Uys, 4 Armandt Koster, 3 Johan Coetzee, 2 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 1 Charles Marais
Substitutes: 16 Elandre Huggett, 17 Ox Nche, 18 Tom Botha, 19 Carl Wegner, 20 Niell Jordaan, 21 Tian Meyer, 22 Nico Lee, 23 Luther Obi