Preview: Cheetahs v Sunwolves

The Cheetahs will become the first Super Rugby side to face newcomers the Sunwolves twice when they meet in Bloemfontein on Friday.

The Japanese outfit suffered a Round Three loss courtesy of a 77th minute try from replacement flanker Boom Prinsloo allowed the visitors to snub their hosts 32-31 at the Singapore National Stadium.

The Bloemfontein outfit are coming off a bye weekend in Round Seven and will fancy their chances to make it two from two against the new kids on the block, after a dominating display in the set pieces despite the 23-18 loss to three time champions the Bulls in Round Six.

The home side have lost two of their matches so far with less than seven points giving us an indication that they do possess the ability to close out games. 

It will certainly be a tough ask for the visitors to outclass their opponents after having been on the road since the end of March with losses to the Kings and the Stormers.

To injury to insult, the Sunwolves have been dealt a blow with it's top try scorer Akihito Yamada set to be out for three weeks due to injury. 

The 30-year-old winger sustained a knock in their 46-19 loss to the Stormers in Cape Town last week. Details of the nature of his injury have not been confirmed yet.

The Japanese outfit have been found to be a little lethargic on defense at critical times and against teams that are quick to recycle the ball – much like the Cheetahs – will make them very vulnerable, the Stormers exploited this very well running in six tries against them.

The Lock pairing of Lood de Jager and Francois Uys have dominated the lineouts and will hope to continue their form at the set piece, the pair have won the most lineouts on their own throw in the competition.

With the departure of Francois Brummer to the Bulls and Joe Pietersen to the Sharks, the home side must be regretting not having an accurate kicker, they have the worse goal-kicking conversion percentage by any team. 

However their flamboyant back three in Clayton Blommetjies, Sergeal Petersen and Raymond Rhule certainly make up the poor form from the tee – with Petersen crossing the whitewash on three occasions.

The Sunwolves, on the other hand, have the worse lineout retention number – securing only 76% of their lineouts – the Cheetahs back rowers will definitely be targetting this area to secure quality first phase ball.

With Samoan fly-half Tusi Pisi returning to the starting lineup, after being rested in Round Seven, this will certainly boost the confidence amongst the backs. The 33-year-old has played a vital role in ensuring that the ball reaches the likes of Viliami Lolohea and the side's top scorer Yamada, the latter being sidelined due to injury.

Another alarming reality for the home side is that they have conceded 65 penalties, which wouldn't have been a worrisome fact seeing that the Sunwolves have given away ten more, but with a better striking accuracy from the tee – Pisi's form might just be the difference that the Japanese outfit need.

The visitors will also be relying heavily on the Samoan number ten's experience to guide them, both on attack and defense.

The Sunwolves have become known for their opportunistic nature on the loose ball and given the Cheetahs' enormous amount of handling errors (19) in Round Six, the visitors might just fancy their chances to bag that maiden win.

Last time these teams met: A 77th minute try from Cheetahs' Boom Prinsloo robbed the Sunwolves of recording their maiden victory. The home side enjoyed a comfortable 31-13 lead early in the second half. Despite a first half hat-trick from the sensational Akihito Yamada the hosts completely fell apart in the second half with Prinsloo's try coming after the men from Bloemfontein mauled their way over the try line for the match winning score.

Players to watch: Cheetahs captain Francois Venter has been gaining metres with ease, week after week. The 
centre has beaten 15 defenders so far this season. Scrum-half Shaun Venter has been ensuring that the talented Cheetahs backline receive quality ball. If the Sunwolves have any hope of winning this one they will have to close the space around the fringes by restricting the number nine.

Fly-half Tusi Pisi's return to the fold would be welcomed by the Sunwolves. The Pivot has beaten five defenders and guided a struggling side South African Riaan Viljoen has been instrumental in dictating matters on attack for the Sunwolves. The full-back crossed the line on two occassion in their 46-19 loss at Newlands.

Previous results:

2016: Cheetahs won 32-31 in Singapore

Team news: Springbok flank Oupa Mohoje will make his long-awaited return from injury off the bench when the Cheetahs face the Sunwolves. Head coach Franco Smith has made a number of alterations to his starting line-up, as Charles Marais moves to the starting line-up replacing Ox Nche at loosehead prop.

Maks van Dyk and Johan Coetzee switch places with Van Dyk starting at tighthead prop and Coetzee on the bench. Hilton Lobberts will be replacing the injured Boom Prinsloo, who is set to miss the rest of the season with a hamstring injury.

Captain Francois Venter and Nico Lee will be switching places with Venter on inside centre and Lee on outside centre.

Meanwhile, Sunwolves head coach Mark Hammett has made a number of changes to his mathday squad. Flanker Liaki Moli moves to the second row in place of suspended Timothy Bond and sees him pair up with Hitoshi Ono in a new look lock duo. Tomás Leonardi shifts to the side of the scrum and Ed Quirk moves to number eight and Andrew Durutalo joins them in the back row.

In the backline, star playmaker Tusi Pisi retuns to the starting lineup in place of Yu Tamura. In a rotational shift Mifiposeti Paea moves from centre to the wing in place of the injured Akihito Yamada. Harumichi Tatekawa pairs up with Derek Carpenter in the midfield. 

Form: The Cheetahs have secured only one victory for the this season thus far, their solo win came against the Sunwolves in Singapore back in Round Three. Narrow loses to the Jaguares in the opening round, the Brumbies in Round Five and the Bulls last week in Pretoria sees them in third position on the Africa One Conference table. They will go into this one as the firm favourites to secure a victory perhaps even a try-scoring bonus point win. The Sunwolves on the other hand have not been on the right side of the scoreboard, losing all of their matches this season. Their only real chance, apart from the one point loss to the Cheetahs in Singapore, was against fellow new boys the Kings in Port Elizabeth in Round Six. The Japanese suffered a close defeat to the Bulls, but with bigger margin losses against the Lions, the Rebels and the Stormers they find themselves in last position, four points adrift of the Cheetahs on the Africa One Conference table.

Prediction: The home side already boast with a win over the Sunwolves and will be the firm favourites going into this one. Cheetahs to win it by seven or more.

The Teams:

Cheetahs: 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Sergeal Petersen, 13 Nico Lee, 12 Francois Venter (c), 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Niel Marais, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 Paul Schoeman, 7 Uzair Cassiem, 6 Hilton Lobberts, 5 Francois Uys, 4 Lood de Jager, 3 Maks van Dyk, 2 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 1 Charles Marais
Replacements: 16 Jacques du Toit, 17 Danie Minnie, 18 Johan Coetzee, 19 Carl Wegner, 20 Henco Venter, 21 Oupa Mohoje, 22 Tian Meyer, 23 Fred Zeilinga

Sunwolves: 15 Riaan Viljoen, 14 Viliami Lolohea, 13 Harumichi Tatekawa, 12 Derek Carpenter, 11 Mifiposeti Paea, 10 Tusi Pisi, 9 Yuki Yatomi, 8 Ed Quirk, 7 Andrew Durutalo, 6 Tomás Leonardi, 5 Liaki Moli, 4 Hitoshi Ono, 3 Takuma Asahara, 2 Shota Horie (c), 1 Masataka Mikami
Replacements: 16 Takeshi Kizu, 17 Ziun Gu, 18 Shinnosuke Kakinaga, 19 Faatiga Lemalu, 20 Yoshiya Hosoda, 21 Kaito Shigeno, 22 Yu Tamura, 23 Yasutaka Sasakura

Date: Friday, April 15
Venue: Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein
Kick-off: 19:00 local (17:00 GMT)
Referee: Nic Berry
Assistant Referees: Angus Gardner, Lourens van der Merwe
TMO: Marius Jonker