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Currie Cup Semi-Finals: Cheetahs v Lions Preview
We preview Saturday’s first Currie Cup semi-final between the Free State Cheetahs and the Golden Lions being played at Toyota Stadium.
So it’s the table toppers versus the defending champions in the first of the 2016 Currie Cup semi-finals. And boy, I cannot wait for this one to kick-off. Both teams are committed to playing attacking brands of rugby, so we should be for a fair amount of tries this Saturday.
Will the defending champions get a shot at retaining their title or will the Cheetahs maintain their unbeaten run in the tournament?
Free State Cheetahs v Golden Lions | Saturday 15 October | Toyota Stadium | 15:00
To Win (80 Mins)
Cheetahs 13/20 | Draw 22/1 | Lions 12/10
Cheetahs | Lions
*Handicap to Be Added Upon Release
Free State Cheetahs
Franco Smith and his charges really do deserve a home semi-final this term. Granted they’ve been the least affected by Springbok call-ups but still, to go through the Currie Cup round-robin phase unbeaten is mighty impressive.
The Cheetahs have been more than just an attacking force this year. Their scrum has come on in leaps and bound with impressive young loosehead Ox Nche leading the way. Another facet of the Cheetahs' game that has improved drastically has been their defensive structure. They have the second best defensive record in the competition, only conceding eight more points than the Sharks.
The men from the Free State’s newfound defensive solidity has not impacted on their attacking prowess, however. Franco Smith’s men lead the points scoring charts having accrued 366 points from their eight round-robin fixtures. That total was aided by the 37 points the Cheetahs picked up when they beat the Lions back in round six.
The aforementioned victory should give the Cheetahs the psychological edge heading into this one. They will also be bolstered by the recent return to fitness of talismanic skipper, Francois Venter. The hard running centre has been in immaculate touch since his return in late September. He will be integral in keeping Lions talismanic inside centre Rohan Janse van Rensburg quiet.
It hasn’t been the best campaign for the defending champions. But hey, they’re in the semi-finals and they’ve accomplished this without a multitude of their stalwarts who have been on duty with the ‘Boks.
Speaking of stalwarts, the Lions will be without veteran Howard Mnisi for Saturday’s game. The centre suffered a season-ending knee injury against in the Lions final round-robin fixture against the Sharks.
Another man who won’t take to the field this weekend is impressive young loosehead prop, Dylan Smith. While Mnisi’s ability to up the tempo off the bench will impact the Lions slightly, the loss of Smith is a much bigger blow. The 22-year-old did his shoulder against the same opposition as Mnisi. His powerful scrummaging and mobility on the park will be sorely missed by the Gauteng union.
The good news for Lions fans is that three of their Springboks will return this weekend. There is even better news, as one of the returnees is a prop – albeit a tighthead. The man I am alluding to is the bearded bundle of energy, Julian Redelinghuys. The front rower has enjoyed a stellar season and will want to use this game to prove to Springbok coach, Allister Coetzee, that he is the man to take over the ‘Bok number 3 jersey. Redelinghuys is likely to be joined in the front row by fellow Bok Malcolm Marx.
Another recently capped Springbok who will be looking to drive home a point to the national head coach is Faf de Klerk. The scrumhalf had an up and down Rugby Championship and will want to prove to the Bok mentor that he is able to take control of a game.
Cheetahs' Road to The Semi-Finals
Boland 16 – 44 Cheetahs | Cheetahs 43 - 20 Bulls | WP 25 – 32 Cheetahs | Cheetahs 57 – 25 Kings | Sharks 30 – 38 Free State | Cheetahs 37 – Lions 29 | Pumas 10 – 52 Cheetahs
Lions' Road to The Semi-Finals
Lions 68 – 26 Pumas | Griquas 30 – 24 Lions | Bulls 31 – 17 Lions | Lions 58 – 32 WP | Cheetahs 37 – 29 Lions | Kings 7 – 71 Lions | Lions 28 – 16 Sharks
The Stats That Matter
Cheetahs ran in 49 tries during the round-robin phase of this year’s Currie Cup at an average of 6.12 per game. The Free Stater's defense was also immaculate only letting in 18 tries at an average of 2.25 per match.
The Lions - while not as prolific on attack - gave a decent account of themselves notching up 348 points at an average of 42.5 points per match.
This will be the second year running that the two sides meet in the semi-finals. The Lions made the most of home ground advantage last year running out 43-33 victors.
The last six contests between the sides have seen three Cheetahs wins and three wins for the Lions.
Verdict: Cheetahs 7/20
The Lions may have the experience but I feel 2016 is going to be the Cheetahs year. They have cut out the 20-minute defensive lapses and seem a much more composed unit. Have a strike on the match but also have a go on the Currie Cup Outright Winner market where the Cheetahs are still available at an incredible 2/1 to win the tournament!