Head to Head
Cardiff secured a narrow three tries to two victory over the Cheetahs in front of their lowest home crowd of this season’s Pro14 in early February. The home side were arguably hanging on at the end of the game and the visitors were somewhat unlucky not to register a victory. Lloyd Williams, Owen Lane and Garyn Smith are the only three backs to feature in both starting XVs, and Cook, Davies and Peikrishvili the three remaining forwards. The team won 18 turnovers in that fixture – one of their better returns this season, but they lost 20 turnovers, in a game that lacked control from either side. Cardiff’s scrum was under pressure throughout that game and no doubt their opponents will focus on this facet of the game this weekend.
Ex-Benetton fly half, Franco Smith joined the Cheetahs in 2014 following six years coaching in Treviso. In Bloemfontein, he has a 42% win record, but there’s a big disparity between home and away. Winning only five games (twice against the Sunwolves, and once each in Port Elizabeth, Newport and Parma) has been the Cheetahs Achilles heal this season. Cardiff’s recent run of form sees Wilson going for seven victories in a row – an unlikely scenario given his team was one from five at the start of the season.
Mike Adamson will referee this weekend’s fixture, his twentieth in the Pro14. An ex-Glasgow player, this will be the fourth time for him to referee a South African team, having taken charge of Glasgow’s victory over the Southern Kings. The omens will be good for the Cheetahs, as he also refereed their comprehensive bonus-point victory over Leinster, the Irishmen’s biggest defeat this season. Adamson is one of the more whistle-happy referees, averaging more than 21 penalties per game. He’s also awarded more yellow cards than any other ref in the Pro14 this season, averaging 1.5 card a game. As homer‘s go, we can mark him down as one of the more neutral refs in the league.
The Cheetahs – alongside Glasgow and Leinster are one of the top points scoring teams in the competition. Unfortunately, only the Kings and Dragons have conceded more tries – but more of that later. Their attack remains one of the most potent in the competition and they average a point every 1.15 minutes – some way ahead of the second placed team. Only Glasgow and Leinster have carried the ball further than the Cheetahs his season. By way of contrast, the visitors play more of a kicking game, averaging 24 kicks per away game, with the home team averaging only 19 per game in South Africa. They have also scored four tries or more on five occasions this season, something that Cardiff have managed only twice.
At the scrum, no side has lost fewer strikes against the head than the Cheetahs. This contrasts with Cardiff’s strength at the lineout, where no team has lost fewer lineouts than the Welshmen. Undoubtedly, this is reflected in their approach to tactical kicking, where they feel they can put pressure on opposition lineouts.
The Cheetahs have the worst home tackle completion ratio amongst any Pro14 team this season (81%), and whilst the gap with other teams is not large, in this facet of play even the smallest weakness can cost victory. Away from home, Cardiff have one of the best completion ratios (88%). The 233 tackles made in Galway back in September, still remains way out in front as the most impressive defensive performance by any team in the Pro14 this season.
The South Africans may well feel aggrieved at rate at which they have conceded 12 yellow cards this season. Only Benetton has a lower penalty per card ratio. Discipline is clearly a problem for the home team and they’ve been penalised 200 times this season. Only their compatriots from Port Elizabeth have a (slightly) higher return. Again, there is a marked disparity between penalties at home (81) versus penalties away from home (119). Of the 12 yellow cards, only two have been conceded at home
The Welshmen have endured a horrific journey to Bloemfontein which has made a tough task even harder. Playing at altitude will compound the challenge. Even though Cardiff are on an impressive run of victories, it is debatable how many of these have been secured because of sub-standard performances by the opposition, rather than because of excellence from Cardiff. It has been their tenacity and will-to-win that has taken them over the line. However, this game will prove too tough for the visitors, and although they will secure a bonus point, the Cheetahs will run out victors by 29-24.