Cheetahs look at the scrum to beat Lions

Quietly, and very much underplayed, the British and Irish Lions’ front row have gone about their business in the two matches to date while the Free State Cheetahs’ front row, with two Springboks, will be hoping on Saturday to show the way in a department where there is general concern in South Africa.

“I expect us to be a good test for the Lions in the scrums,” said Cheetahs coach Naka Drotske on Friday.

“They’re a good side and, coming from the heavier British fields, they place an emphasis on scrumming. We’ll have to scrum well,” he mused about Saturday’s match in Bloemfontein.

The fact that the Lions have selected a very big front row won’t make matters easier for the Cheetahs either.

Drotske rates the Lions scrummaging highly, and feels this is definitely the one facet where they could put the Springboks under pressure.

One of the strongest looseheads in the world, uncapped Springbok Wian du Preez, will be more than a good test for Lions tighthead Euan Murray.

Adriaan Strauss, good in the loose, is also an accomplished scrum worker and the Cheetahs will be able to control the ball on their own scrum put-in. Whether they will be able to dominate on their tight head side is questionable, however.

Kobus Calldo is not in the same class as the two aforementioned front row colleagues, and the Lions‘ Andrew Sheridan will probably show him up. To what extent, could determine how the Springboks with John Smit will fare in the Tests.

He is out of position and not entirely comfortable, according to tighthead experts who have played there at the highest level, whatever Bok coach Peter de Villiers might say.

Smit deserves his place, but then as hooker, and the selection of Deon Carstens as Smit’s tighthead back-up for the Tests could also find South Africa wanting in case of replacement or injury to either Bismarck du Plessis or Smit.

Carstens played his first international rugby at tighthead, but has switched to the other side where he seems more comfortable. With Smit and Jannie du Plessis, the chosen two for the Sharks, Carstens had to wait for a gap when loosehead Beast Mtawarira was rested.

The Lions will no doubt use the match to see what further progress they’ve made since Wednesday night’s massacre against the Golden Lions. They were very good on defence and at the breakdown, and good in the scrums.

Their backs were also very good, with the centre paring of Jamie Roberts and Brian O’Driscoll near devastating.

They’ve probably made the midfield positions theirs, although Bok backline coach Dick Muir seemed unconcerned in intimating the last year’s pairing of Jean de Villiers and Adi Jacobs will play in the Tests and will be up to the task.

Lions captain Paul O’Connell said, however, that they didn’t expect to pick up where they left off against the Golden Lions.

First and foremost they want to win. “The best thing for confidence and morale is winning and that’s what we need to carry on doing in Bloemfontein this weekend.”

Young Springbok and Cheetahs flanker Heinrich Brussow, overlooked for the Springbok squad by De Villiers and co, despite being arguably the best fetcher in the Super 14 series, has a point to prove – not that it would matter, as the coaching team have obviously decided on experience rather than current form.

Golden Lions captain Cobus Grobbelaar fought a lone battle at the breakdown on Wednesday night, and the Cheetahs pack will probably again be overwhelmed in this facet.

What will be of special interest is whether the Lions have upped their breakdown contesting a further notch.

In the lineouts, David de Villiers will be the man the home side looks to, to disrupt the visitors. “Of course we are weakened by the loss of the Griquas players who combined with us in the Super 14,” said Drotske.

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