Cheetahs looking to break Bulls duck
The high-flying Cheetahs have achieved many milestones this season and are looking to add one more when they tackle the Bulls in Pretoria on Saturday.
The Cheetahs have not been able to beat the Bulls since they went it alone, following their divorce from the Lions to end that unhappy Cats marriage in 2006.
The Bloemfontein-based outfit has come close – going down by two points (23-25) in 2011 and four points four points (20-24) in 2007.
However, a Super Rugby win in the expanded competition – first to 14 teams in 2006 and then 15 in 2011 – has eluded them.
Cheetahs assistant coach Hawies Fourie felt it is unfair of those pundits who are installing the Cheetahs as favourites, despite the Bloemfontein side's unprecedented five-match winning streak.
Even with the Bulls having lost their last three games, Fourie felt his team is not necessary the favourites.
"Any game at Loftus is very tough and the Cheetahs have never beaten the Bulls in Super Rugby," Fourie told this website in an interview.
"Our goal for the weekend is to break that duck," he said, adding: "We have achieved a few milestones and records this season, but we would like to add a first win over the Bulls to that list.
"We have come close on occasion against a top-flight Bulls team – with players like Victor Matfield, Fourie du Preez and others – but a [Super Rugby] win has always eluded us.
"That is something we would like to rectify."
The next three weeks will be vital for the Cheetahs' play-off hope – when they face the Bulls in Pretoria, tackle the Sharks in Durban a week later and then host tournament rookies the Southern Kings in Durban.
Even the Kings are not the easy-beats everybody thought they would be, following their impressive 28-all draw against the Brumbies last week.
The form book would suggest the Cheetahs have a really good chance to upstage the Bulls on their home turf.
They started with defeats in their first two matches – which were against last year's finalists, the Sharks and defending champion Chiefs.
However, they are now the only team in the 2013 competition that can boast five successive victories, a first for the Cheetahs.
And they are also the only team that has not yet had a bye, which brings with it four bonus points. In comparison the Waratahs will have their second bye this coming weekend.
The Cheetahs' first bye will only be in early May, when they have played 10 consecutive matches.
However, the stats show just how tough it is for the Cheetahs to beat the Bulls. In their nine encounters since 2006 the Bulls have averaged a 38-22 winning margin and five tries to three per match against the Cheetahs.
The Cheetahs' backline coach said the key on Saturday would be to counter the Bulls' kicking game.
"They kick a lot and they kick effectively," Fourie told this website, adding: "For us it is vital when they launch those high bombs – with players like Akona [Ndungane] and Jurgen Visser, who are very good at the aerial game – it is important we don't give them possession back from those kicks.
"We also have to be effective with our kicking game."
He said the Cheetahs also feel their attack is not quite as affective as we can be.
"We are working hard on our attacking game and would like to retain the ball for longer periods. We will be looking to kick a bit less than what we did against the Stormers and put pressure on their defence by retaining the ball longer through the phases."
While the Cheetahs have scored 17 tries this season, they have mostly been from turnover ball and counter attacks.
They are looking to sharpen up their attack from set-piece play.
"We feel that from our own set pieces – scrums and line-outs – we can be a lot more effective. We are determined to score more tries from set-piece play."
Defence will be another key aspect and this is one area where the Cheetahs have made great strides this season.
"There are always a few things we are working on and trying to improve, but our defence has improved on previous years," he said.
"There are still one or two players who make an error on defence or make a wrong call and we are working on that. In general we are very happy with where our defence is at."
By Jan de Koning