The Chiefs have painted themselves into a corner on their Super Rugby overseas trip and tomorrow is their one chance to get out of it.
Having been upset by the Force in Perth and then having to score 19 points in the last 11 minutes in Pretoria last weekend to draw 34-34 with the Bulls, the 2012-13 champions need a win against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein tomorrow morning.
''It's essential we win,'' said Chiefs head coach Dave Rennie from Bloemfontein last night.
''The Force [loss] was a huge disappointment and just highlights that in this competition you need to front every week.''
Rennie said the performance against the Bulls had been a ''massive lift'' attitude-wise but they had just got it wrong in the third quarter where they were beaten in the kicking battle and got pinned down with only 30 per cent territory in the second half.
''It forced us to score from long range so the attitude was sensational coming back and we're really happy with the effort the boys put in but we need to be a lot sharper in other areas.
''A win will do us. If we get a bonus point we'll be even happier but [a win is] essential from a tour point of view. We've had a loss and a draw and if we get a win here we'll go home still leading our conference and will have got the South African trip out of the way which will be good.''
The Chiefs have made five personnel changes and one positional one for this match.
They have left their tight five intact, with young hooker Rhys Marshall, who struggled against the Bulls with his lineout throwing, keeping his starting spot after the more experienced Mahonri Schwalger returned home for follow-up eye surgery.
Regular lock Mike Fitzgerald has been named at blindside flanker not only to improve the lineout options but also to add some muscle to counter the mauling of the South Africans, while Sam Cane replaces Tanerau Latimer at openside flanker and co-captain Liam Messam moves to No 8.
In the backline, three of the players who made huge impact off the bench in securing the draw against the Bulls - halfback Augustine Pulu, winger Tim Nanai-Williams and fullback Gareth Anscombe - come in for Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Anton Lienert-Brown and Mils Muliaina, who all go to the bench.
Co-captain Aaron Cruden will start off as the goal-kicker with Gareth Anscombe taking the long-range kicks.
Rennie said the Chiefs had worked this week not only on combating the mauling of the South African teams, but also improving their lineout play, which has been the worst in the competition to date with only a 70 per cent success rate.
''We've had a good look at our lineout. We've made some shifts to make the job a little bit easier on our hooker.
''There's been an enormous amount of work go in for a number of weeks but in the end we've got to get a better result so we've altered what we're doing at lineout time and our structure beyond that and hopefully we do get a better result tomorrow,'' Rennie said.
The Cheetahs have been dealt a setback with form No 8 Philip van der Walt, the leading tackler in Super Rugby, ruled out for six weeks with a broken hand suffered during training.
He is replaced by Jean Cook, while the only other change to the home side's starting XV is at loosehead prop where Springbok Trevor Nyakane returns after a hamstring niggle forced coach Naka Drotske to move Coenie Oosthuizen to the bench.
Drotske has stuck with the unfamiliar backline that features regular winger Rayno Benjamin at 12 and regular fullback Hennie Daniller on the wing.
The Cheetahs are coming off a bye after a poor tour of Australasia that followed their upset win over the Bulls in round two.
HOW THEY LINE UP
Cheetahs: Willie le Roux, Cornal Hendricks, Johann Sadie, Rayno Benjamin, Hennie Daniller, Johan Goosen, Sarel Pretorius, Jean Cook, Lappies Labuschagné, Boom Prinsloo, Francois Uys, Lodewyk de Jager, Maks van Dyk, Adriaan Strauss (c), Trevor Nyakane. Res: Ryno Barnes, Caylib Oosthuizen, Rossouw de Klerk, Andries Ferreira, Teboho Mohoje, Shaun Venter, Elgar Watts, Howard Mnisi.
Chiefs: Gareth Anscombe, Tim Nanai-Williams, Andrew Horrell, Tom Marshall, Asaeli Tikoirotuma, Aaron Cruden (c), Augustine Pulu, Liam Messam (c), Sam Cane, Michael Fitzgerald, Brodie retallick, Matt Symons, Ben Tameifuna, Rhys Marshall, Paulisi Manu. Res: Nathan Harris, Jamie Mackintosh, Josh Hohneck, Liam Squire, Tanerau Latimer, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Anton Lienert-Brown, Mils Muliaina.
Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa).
Kickoff: 2am (NZ time) tomorrow, Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein.
- Waikato Times
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