Head to Head
This is the first time for the two teams to meet in a competitive fixture though Cardiff did tour South Africa in 2012 when they narrowly defeated the Cheetahs.
Cheetah’s coach, Franco Smith, spent a season with Newport during 1999-2000 before taking up coaching in Bloemfontein in 2005. He went on to be appointed head coach of the then Super Rugby franchise for the 2016 season. In two seasons in Super Rugby he lead the Cheetahs to a total of eight victories – six of those against the Kings and Sunwolves. In his 33 games in charge, his team has only won 4 games away from home. In the Pro12, a one point victory in Parma is the team’s only away win this season.
Amongst the more senior referees in the Pro14, only Clancy, Lacey and Owens are older than Ian Davies. This weekend will see Davies referee his 70th game in the competition, and only Owens, Clancy and Mitrea have officiated at more games. With a home-win rating of only 56%, Davies’ record reveals a more equitable approach to away teams than his peers. He’s ref’d Cardiff fourteen times (though only three times at CAP), with the home side losing on six occasions. He’s averaging only 16 penalties per game in the Pro14 – one of the lowest in the league. He’s yet to referee a game featuring the Cheetahs.
The Cheetahs rank fourth on the table of metres run with ball in hand this season – something the Welsh clubs do not excel at. Whilst Cardiff’s average metres-per-carry rate is highly variable, the visitors to the Arms Park this weekend are far more consistent, and the data shows little change since their Super Rugby season. They have a consistent approach to kicking – averaging at around 19 per game, whether playing at home or away. Cardiff, meanwhile, average 22 kicks per home game. With ball in hand, the Cheetahs average more defenders beaten per game than the Welshman, but there is little to choose between the two teams. The visitors are also offloading more, but again, the difference is slight.
The Cheetahs’ scrum is one of the strongest in the league, having lost only two against the head all season. But if the South Africans are strong in the scrum, then Cardiff’s lineout is the most consistent in the league with the fewest number of lineouts lost by some distance.
The Cheetahs have clearly sharpened their defence this season – conceding far fewer missed tackles per game in the Pro14 than they did in Super Rugby. But nevertheless, their work rate in defence falls some way short of Cardiff’s average of 113 tackles per game. Cardiff are conceding 3 tries – on average – per game in the Pro14, but the Cheetahs record is even worse (3.3 tries), despite being 15 points ahead of Cardiff in Conference A.
Only Treviso have received more yellow cards than the Cheetahs this season. Of the 10 cards they’ve received, only two have been conceded at home. However, both Cardiff and the Cheetahs are averaging a card every 15 penalties. And penalised the Cheetahs certainly are! Their rate of 11.5 penalties per game is the highest in the league. Interestingly, whilst most other teams are disproportionately penalised away from home, the Cheetahs rate is almost identical – 74 at home and 75 away from home.
Predicting the result of a game when there is no head-to-head track record is difficult, and this is compounded by the poor preparation the home team will have endured thanks to the disruptive effects of the Six Nations. However, given the Cheetah’s awful away form as well as their defensive frailties, the home team will run out victors by 26-14, once more missing out on a bonus point.