Super Rugby 2017: Cheetahs v Lions Preview

Super-Rugby-2017-Cheetahs-v-Lions-Preview

In what is sure to be a highly entertaining 80 minutes of rugby, last year's Currie Cup champions host 2016's Super Rugby finalists at the Free State Stadium in Bloemfontein.

We are in for a catfight out in Bloemfontein this Saturday with the Cheetahs and Lions going claw to paw at the Toyota Stadium. Last year's beaten finalists come into this one as heavy favourites but the host will want to prove that they can produce the goods at Super Rugby level having secured last year's Currie Cup title.
Cheetahs v Lions | Saturday 25 February | Toyota Stadium | 15:05

To Win (80 mins)
Cheetahs 32/10 | Draw 22/1 | Lions 1/4

Cheetahs
After an initial slow start under new head coach Franco Smith, the Cheetahs finally hit their straps at the back-end of last season. A disappointing Super Rugby campaign, that saw the Bloemfontein-based outfit win just 27% of their matches, was followed up in the best way imaginable with the Cheetahs winning all eleven of their games on their way to being crowned the domestic champions of South Africa, claiming the Currie Cup for the first time in nine years. So impressive was coach Smith, that he was eventually drafted into the Springbok coaching staff as a consultant for their year-end tour.

Super Rugby, however, remains the benchmark for all South African - and indeed Southern Hemisphere) teams - and the Cheetahs progress under Smith will face its litmus test in the upcoming months. Interestingly, Smith's Cheetahs have modelled themselves after the very side they face this weekend - Johan Ackermann's Lions. A focus on faith, pride, teamwork and humility are all things that can be found in the Cheetahs and Lions setups, and it will be interesting to see how well the latter side's methods work for the former.

A big improvement in the Cheetahs game in last year's Currie Cup was their defence - the way that some of those Cheetahs tackled in the final against the Bulls was brutal. If they manage to maintain that level of defensive intensity and shut down the Lions' attack quickly, as well as pressurise their breakdown, they may well be in for more than just a shout this weekend.

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Lions
Everybody's second favourite team will be keen to get their 2017 off to a flying start against the Cheetahs from Bloemfontein on Saturday and again challenge for the title this season. After surpassing every rugby supporter's wildest expectations last year (and perhaps even their own), the Lions will be wary of falling foul to second-season-syndrome (something that was more than a little evident in the Cheetahs class of 2014, after their fantastic exploits the year before), but will target this weekend's game as a must-win. Ackermann's side is a settled and experienced one, and will realise that they have the pedigree to win in Bloemfontein this Saturday.

The absence of Cheetahs skipper, and key midfielder Francois Venter will hamper the hosts' cause, meaning the centres will surely be an area of interest for the Lions (Rohan Janse van Rensburg and Lionel Mapoe will thus look to run hard in the middle of the park). If the Lions pick up where they left off last year, they should have no problem in seeing off this spirited Cheetahs outfit. The belief, skill and ability is all there in Ackermann's side - they just have to pitch up on the day.

Verdict: Lions 1/4
Should they play to their potential, the Lions should come away with the goods here - there is no doubt that they are the superior all-round side. However, if the Cheetahs manage to slow down the visitors' breakdown ball, it may well be closer than anticipated. Nevertheless, the Lions should win by seven or more.

Written by Shaun Goosen for @Hollywoodbets.net!

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