The Blues have been all about big-name recruitments in the off-season, none of whom has repaid their hefty sales tags. Benji Marshall, after one start at fullback, is back on the bench – again producing a mixed bag in the loss to the Lions last week which suggested he is still struggling to inject his considerable skills into a game unfamiliar to him.
All Blacks stars Ma’a Nonu and Jerome Kaino have both been named among the replacements as well – Nonu finally returning from injury after his high-profile move from the Highlanders (his fourth franchise in as many seasons), while loose forward Kaino returns to Super Rugby after two years in Japan. Then there is the fact that the Blues, after two bruising encounter, with the Bulls and Lions, had to endure a 20-hour flight from South African and reduced training this week. Cheetahs assistant coach Hawies Fourie admitted the extended travel and accompanying jet lag will play a role. However, the Blues will be determined to make amends for their a disappointing tour of South Africa, where they collected just two bonus points.
“We are certainly not expecting any favours or an easy game,” Fourie told this website from the Cheetahs’ training base in Auckland. “It is going to be very tough, given they are getting a few of their All Blacks back from injury – guys like Jerome Kaino and Ma’a Nonu, so that won’t make the job any easier. “However, I feel we play so far below the potential we have, that our main goal should be to perform to our true potential.”
The Cheetahs, despite being on a three-match losing streak with just one win from five starts this season, believe they can win against any team on any given day. The Blues are pretty much in the same boat. The thrill and excitement of their last victory against the Crusaders last month has all but evaporated, following disappointing losses to both the Bulls and the Lions. Currently sitting in 11th position on the Super Rugby ladder, a third consecutive loss, and one at home no less, would be a significant blow to the Blues’ play-off chances even this early in the competition.
After conceding almost unassailable leads in all four of their matches before charging back into contention late in the game, Blues coach John Kirwan said he was looking for much more hunger, energy and work-rate from his side. “We just need to play for each other this week,” Kirwan said in an interview on the Blues’ website.
“We need to make sure that we are excited off the football and running. “I think if we are missing one thing it’s a little effort so we’re looking for more effort this week and making sure we’re playing for each other.”
2013: Cheetahs won 34-13, Bloemfontein
2011: Blues won 29-22, Auckland
2010: Cheetahs won 36-32, Bloemfontein
2009: Blues won 46-12, North Harbour
2008: Blues won 50-26, Bloemfontein
2007: Blues won 26-8, Auckland
Blues: 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Frank Halai, 13 George Moala, 12 Jackson Willison, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Simon Hickey, 9 Piri Weepu, 8 Peter Saili, 7 Luke Braid, 6 Steven Luatua, 5 Tom Donnelly, 4 Liaki Moli, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 James Parsons, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Tom McCartney, 17 Angus Ta’avao, 18 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 19 Jerome Kaino, 20 Hayden Triggs, 21 Bryn Hall, 22 Ma’a Nonu, 23 Benji Marshall.
Cheetahs: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 Johann Sadie, 12 Ryno Benjamin, 11 Hennie Daniller, 10 Johan Goosen, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Philip van der Walt, 7 Jean Cook, 6 Johannes Prinsloo, 5 Francois Uys, 4 Lodewyk de Jager, 3 Nicolaas van Dyk, 2 Adriaan Strauss (captain), 1 Caylib Oosthuizen.
Replacements: 16 Ryno Barnes, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Rossouw de Klerk, 19 Andries Ferreira, 20 Pieter Labuschagne, 21 Shaun Venter, 22 Elgar Watts, 23 Howard Mnisi.
Referee: Francisco Pastrana (Argentina)
Assistant referees: Garratt Williamson (New Zealand), Shane McDermott (New Zealand)
TMO: Glenn Newman (New Zealand)