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Cheetahs are genuine contenders

This coming Sunday the Cheetahs will play in their first Super Rugby playoff since the competition’s inception in 1996. It’s a notable achievement for the Bloemfontein-based side.

Having formed part of the Cats franchise since the competition’s start, it understandably proved challenging for the Cheetahs to forge their own culture and identity and establish themselves as a force in the competition.

Subsequently, this allowed the stronger South African franchises to steal their best talent each year. However, 2013 has seen a real change in fortunes both on-field and off.

In terms of tactics, the Cheetahs’ current success can firstly be attributed to a major improvement in their defensive structures.

As we know they have always possessed the ability to score tries, but in seasons past had the tendency to fail at crucial times on defence. They have certainly proved more consistent and tactically sound on defence this season.

That said, most pundits have overlooked the fact that Os du Randt has developed a highly competitive scrum set-piece, which the Cheetahs have used as an effective attacking platform. I believe that this will prove a crucial facet of play against the Brumbies.

From a mental perspective, skipper Adriaan Strauss has been immense in instilling a strong belief within the side.

While many cite the travel factor as a major stumbling block for the tourists from both a physical and psychological standpoint, I believe that professional teams are now accustomed to travelling and competing all over the world. This should no longer be used as a legitimate excuse for failure.

The Cheetahs enjoyed a highly successful Australasian tour this season and I would advise them to channel that confidence ahead of their clash at Bruce Stadium. Playoff matches are one-off occasions and thus the Cheetahs must be bloody-minded in approach.

I believe that the Cheetahs have the ability to beat the Brumbies if they play constructive, intelligent rugby combined with a bit of the unexpected. They need to play to their strengths and be clinical in their execution.

The Brumbies, however, will prove difficult opponents. Under Jake White’s guidance the Canberra-based side have improved in leaps and bounds.

What White always does so well is find a balance to his side through players who complement one another. The players have clearly bought into his vision and their execution in all aspects of play is of the highest order.

There are a number of intriguing subplots to the match, most notably the battle between Heinrich Brussow and George Smith.

This particular match-up promises to be very interesting and its outcome will be dependent upon how both coaches decide to use these key players to the benefit of their teams and tactics.

It makes a huge difference which side of the scrum they attack and defend from and which part of the field the scrum is set. The same applies to their position in the line-outs. It will be fascinating to see how this duel unfolds.

The Brumbies have the ability to work themselves into good positions on the field and are patient on attack. Thus, the Cheetahs’ best bet will be to disrupt them in the scrums and prosper from broken play, turn-over ball and on the counter attack.

Casting an eye over the other qualifier, I believe the Crusaders/Reds clash will go right down to the wire.

While the Crusaders started 2013 poorly, they have improved as the season has progressed. They appear to be peaking at just the right time and have proven ability to win when it matters most.

The Reds on the other hand would be best advised to use their game-breakers. For example, Will Genia and Quade Cooper have the ability to create something out of nothing and can thus hurt their hosts.

Both qualifiers pit sides against each other with contrasting styles of play. This ensures that we will be treated to two great battles this weekend.

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