The Cheetahs need to slow the Reds’ ball if they’re to break their Australian duck.
The central franchise are coming off two narrow losses to the Lions and Force, and as coach Naka Drotske said last Friday, they have to start winning those close games. The line defence has improved but discipline is still costing them six or seven points that prove the difference. Their tactical approach could also use sharpening.
Drotske will have watched the video of that Newlands fixture where complacency very nearly killed the Stormers. Inaccuracy and poor tactical application allowed the Reds several opportunities and the Brisbane boys were good enough to make them tell in the second half. In a looser, less-structured game, the Reds can be deadly, and given they don’t commit many men to the rucks, they are particularly deadly when they use the width of the field.
Quade Cooper can’t be afforded any space this Sunday. Force flyhalf Matt Giteau was contained to a degree by the Cheetahs, but the Wallablies pivot was still good enough to break down the defence through a series of probing grubbers and chips. Cooper is a running threat but not nearly as accurate with the boot, and if the Cheetahs can close him down quickly it will go a long way to quashing the Reds’ attack at the source.
Typically, the Cheetahs will place an emphasis on the forward exchanges and it’s imperative that flankers Juan Smith and Heinrich Brussow recover from their respective niggles to start this match. The Cheetahs need to negate the speed with which the Reds recycle the ball. They don’t need to be negative at the tackle point, but they need to be competitive. And if they’re going to nullify the Aussie specialists in this area, they’ll need two of the best ball stealers in Smith and Brussow on the park.
Prop Wian du Preez was yellow-carded for a perceived breakdown transgression last week. The card was brandished given the Cheetahs were on a team warning for repeated infringements, and what it boils down to is accuracy in competing for the ball. A lot will depend on the Cheetahs’ ability to challenge within the laws, and if they can’t affect the steal, they will at least ensure the Reds receive slow and scrappy ball.
The central franchise scored one win in a dismal 2008 campaign, namely the 29-14 victory over the Reds in Bloemfontein. The Reds may be back in Brisbane but they’re also smarting from the two losses to the Bulls and Stormers. They’ve lost a number of senior players since the Cheetahs beat them last season, and despite their four-try bonus at Newlands they are still a very beatable side. Whether the Cheetahs can put them away is another story, as only a vastly improved showing in the departments of discipline and composure is going to get the Cheetahs off the mark.
The opportunity to break the Australian duck is there for the Cheetahs. Sunday will confirm whether they are good enough to take this opportunity or not.
By Jon Cardinelli