The Cheetahs may already have two tough games behind them – a defeat and a win – but with the Rebels having had a bye in Round Two, the men from Melbourne are an unknown quantity to the visitors.
Cheetahs coach Naka Drotské also admitted that a substantial turnover in player corps, plus a new coach, means they can’t focus too much on the men from Melbourne.
This will be the first opportunity for Tony McGahan and his men to showcase their skills and what they have worked on in pre-season.
“They had a bye last week and they have a new coach,” Drotské told this website in an interview from the team’s base in Melbourne.
“Many players have moved on,” he added – in reference to the departure of Nic Henderson (retired), Ged Robinson (to Hawke’s Bay in New Zealand ), Jarrod Saffy (to Bressane in France), Gareth Delve (to Japan), Nick Phipps (to Waratahs), James O’Connor (to London Irish in England), Richard Kingi (to Stade Français in France), Cooper Vuna (to Japan) and Kurtley Beale (to Waratahs).
Their new recruits are scant – Toby Smith (from the Chiefs), Tom Sexton (from Leinster in Ireland), Colby Fainga’a (from the Brumbies), Tamati Ellison (from the Highlanders) and Tony McGahan (from the Australian national Sevens team).
“Their captain of last year has also moved on,” Drotské told this website, adding: “We have managed to get some video footage of their pre-season game against the Hurricanes and based some of our defence on that.
“However, it is more important that we focus on our own game we have to ensure our systems are in place and the game plan is executed.
“It is dangerous to focus on the opposition of you don’t have enough video footage of them.”
The Cheetahs, who reached the play-offs for the first time in 2013, will hope to repeat or improve on last year’s impressive form on tour – when they won three in a row in Australasia.
The Rebels have ambitions of their own, least of all to attempt a first-ever win over the Cheetahs. The closest they came was a seven-point loss (26-33) in Melbourne two years ago.
The Cheetahs were surprised by the newly-promoted Lions in their Round One game and the Rebels are planning a similar ambush.
With a new coach, McGahan, and eight new faces in the 23-man squad, the Melbourne outfit will bank on their impressive pre-season form – where they won three from three.
New captain Scott Higginbotham feels his team is in a good space.
“All the boys are champing at the bit to get out there,” he said.
“I wouldn’t say we’ve kept anything up our sleeves, but we’ve had two weeks to prepare for this game so we’ve had a bit of stuff to work on.”
2013: Cheetahs won 34-16, Bloemfontein
2012: Cheetahs won 33-26, Melbourne
2011: Cheetahs won 41-21, Bloemfontein
Prediction: This is probably one of the toughest games to call, as there is no form for the Rebels to go on. Pre-season matches are not always a good indicator, as teams try out tactics and combinations, which might have an influence on the scoreline. The Cheetahs will go into the game as slight favourites and we feel they might edge this one, by about five points.
Melbourne Rebels: 15 Jason Woodward, 14 Lachlan Mitchell, 13 Tamati Ellison, 12 Mitch Inman, 11 Tom English, 10 Bryce Hegarty, 9 Luke Burgess, 8 Scott Higginbotham (captain), 7 Scott Fuglistaller, 6 Sean McMahon, 5 Luke Jones, 4 Hugh Pyle, 3 Laurie Weeks, 2 Pat Leafa, 1 Toby Smith.
Replacements: 16 Steve Fualau, 17 Max Lahiff, 18 Paul Alo-Emile, 19 Cadeyrn Neville, 20 Colby Fainga’a, 21 Ben Meehan, 22 Angus Roberts, 23 Tom Kingston.
Cheetahs: 15 Willem le Roux, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 Johann Sadie, 12 Francois Venter, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Johan Goosen, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 Philip van der Walt, 7 Pieter Labuschagne, 6 Johannes Prinsloo, 5 Francois Uys, 4 Lodewyk de Jager, 3 Coenraad Oosthuizen, 2 Adriaan Strauss (captain), 1 Caylib Oosthuizen.
Replacements: 16 Ryno Barnes, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Nicolaas van Dyk, 19 Rynhardt Landman, 20 Jean Cook, 21 Sarel Pretorius, 22 Elgar Watts, 23 Hennie Daniller.
Referee: Angus Gardner (Australia)
Assistant referees: Matt O’Brien (Australia), Michael Hogan (Australia)
TMO: Steve Leszczynski (Australia)