The Hurricanes will literally blow into Bloemfontein this week on the back of impressive wins against the Blues, Western Force and Lions in the first three weeks.
Jan de Koning – Rugby365
In fact the ‘Canes will be trying to win their first four matches in a Super Rugby season for the first time.
The Cheetahs have looked less than convincing – even in their away win over the Sharks – and the defeats to the Bulls and the Highlanders are more a reflection of the erratic form that has bedevilled their campaigns for the past five years.
The last time the Hurricanes won their first three matches and lost their fourth was in 2006 – ironically against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein.
That match in Bloemfontein, won narrowly 27-25 by the Cheetahs, was only time these two teams have met in this city.
The last time the Hurricanes met the Cheetahs on South African soil was in 2008, when they played in Kimberley, while all their other Super 14 matches have been in Wellington or New Plymouth.
Injuries played a key role in the Hurricanes’ build-up this week – All Blacks Conrad Smith (thumb) and Tamati Ellison (shoulder) both ruled out, to go along with the season-ending injury of Jason Eaton (knee).
However, the most noteworthy selection is the inclusion of young Aaron Cruden at flyhalf, who replaces the seasoned Willie Ripia at No.10.
Cheetahs coach Naka Drotské had more than enough headaches of his own and would not have taken too much notice of the Hurricanes’ selection issues.
Speaking to the media this week Drotské said the failure of his charges to stick to the structures under pressure is what cost them against the Highlanders last week.
In an uncharacteristic attack on his players, Drotské said it is “inexcusable” that players can’t stick to the game plan.
He also felt that the new application of the breakdown/tackle rule should be an advantage to his team, who pride themselves on their attacking prowess.
“We have to step up our intensity on defence and attack,” Drotské said, when asked how they could rectify the problem.
“The responsibility is with the players to execute the game plan.
“Nomatter what we plan during the week or talk about, at the end of the day it is up to the players to produce on the playing surface,” he added.
The Cheetahs – who have finished a disappointing 10th, 11th, 13th and 14th in the first four years of the Super 14 – would look to reproduce the heroics of 2006, when they beat the Hurricanes.
However, the Hurricanes have scored exactly twice the number of points against the Cheetahs that they have conceded to them – 188 points for and 94 against.
Heading into the new season, the Hurricanes have exactly a fifty percent winning record in South Africa – winning 15 from 30 games played there between the first against Natal in 1996 (lost 43-27) and the most recent last year, also against the Sharks.
Super 14 results:
2009: Hurricanes won 29-12, New Plymouth
2008: Hurricanes won 38-10, Bloemfontein
2007: Hurricanes won 37-15, Wellington
2006: Cheetahs won 27-25, Bloemfontein
rugby365.com Prediction: The Cheetahs are incredibly erratic, an aspect that has cost them dearly over the years. They have shown the same symptoms this year – conceding 50 points against the Bulls, beating the Sharks in a supreme defensive performance and the falling flat against the Highlanders last week. The Hurricanes have been far more consistent and even without three of their All Blacks still look far too good for the home side. The Hurricanes by at least 10 points.
Cheetahs: 15 Hennie Daniller, 14 Lionel Mapoe, 13 Robert Ebersohn, 12 Meyer Bosman, 11 Jongi Nokwe, 10 Naas Olivier, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Frans Viljoen, 7 Juan Smith (captain), 6 Heinrich Brussow, 5 Waltie Vermeulen, 4 Nico Breedt, 3 WP Nel, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Wian du Preez.
Replacements: 16 Ryno Barnes, 17 Coenie Oosthuizen, 18 David de Villiers, 19 Kabamba Floors, 20 Tewis de Bruyn, 21 Riaan Viljoen, 22 Danwel Demas
Hurricanes: 15 Cory Jane, 14 Andre Taylor, 13 Alapati Leiua, 12 Ma’a Nonu, 11 David Smith, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Piri Weepu, 8 Rodney So’oialo, 7 Karl Lowe, 6 Victor Vito, 5 Michael Paterson, 4 Bryn Evans, 3 Neemia Tialata, 2 Andrew Hore (captain), 1 John Schwalger.
Replacements: 16 Dane Coles, 17 Anthony Perenise, 18 Jeremy Thrush, 19 Scott Waldrom, 20 Tyson Keats, 21 Willie Ripia, 22 Brett Mather.
Referee: Bryce Lawrence (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Jonathan Kaplan (South Africa), Joey Salmans (South Africa)
TMO: Johann Meuwesen (South Africa)