In knock-out games it can go anyway
The odds may be heavily stacked against them, but the Cheetahs will be creating their own chapter of history in Canberra on Sunday.
The two-time Super Rugby champions and home team, the Brumbies, will go into this preliminary qualifying match (quarterfinal) as favourites.
However, the Cheetahs - when they make their first-ever appearance in the play-offs - will become the fifth South African franchise to reach the knock-out stages of this SANZAR showpiece.
That puts South Africa on par with New Zealand - who have seen all five their franchises reach the play-offs at some stage since the game went professional in 1996.
The Cheetahs join the Bulls (with three titles and four other appearances in the play-offs), Sharks (runners-up four times and four other play-off appearances), Stormers (runners-up once and four other play-off appearances) and Cats (two play-off appearances) as SA outfits in the knock-out stages.
Australia have just three franchises who have made it to the knock-out stages - the Brumbies (two titles and four other play-off appearances), Reds (one title and four other play-off appearances) and Waratahs (runners-up twice and four other play-off appearances).
It means this game pits South Africa's play-off rookies against Australia's most successful team.
It is not surprising the bookies are rating the Brumbies at least eight points better than the Cheetahs, given that the Brumbies have only ever lost one play-off match at home - when the Crusaders beat them 20-19 in the 2000 Super 12 Final.
Despite the odds being stacked against them, Cheetahs coach Naka Drotské was confident his charges can continue their unprecedented run in the competition.
"The fact is, when you are in the top six, every game will be enormously tough," Drotské said, adding: "However, we know that in knock-out games it is a once-off and it can go anyway."
The Brumbies' World Cup-winning former Springbok coach Jake White spoke this week of how proud he is of the way they went from no-hopers (13th place in 2011) and into the play-offs this year.
"We know the history of Brumbies teams before us - champions in 2001 and 2004 and regular finalists," White said in his weekly column in the Canberra Times.
For the first time in almost a decade the Brumbies are again Australia's leading light in Super Rugby and featuring in the play-offs.
However, White said the job is not done yet.
"We've learnt our lessons from the disappointment of last year when we [just] missed the finals," he said of their seventh-placed finish after a 16-30 loss to the Blues in the last round of league action - which saw the Reds edge them into the knock-out stages by virtue of having won one more match.
The Brumbies' mentor said Sunday's encounter is the next step in their journey back to where they want to be.
"We want to be champions," he said.
He said they wants the Brumbies to restore the stranglehold they had over South African teams in Canberra in years gone by.
Even though the Cheetahs have never won in the Australian capital, the Brumbies have won just two of their last six outings against teams from South Africa.
"I remember when South African teams feared coming to Canberra to play against the Brumbies," White said, adding: "You just knew if the Brumbies were on song they could embarrass teams and they did it many times."
He said that teams that win play-off games are the ones that stick to what they're supposed to do.
And the Cheetahs feel they know exactly what to expect from the Brumbies.
"They are, without doubt, a quality team that surprised all and sundry the last two years the way they came through," Drotské said of the home team's improved form under White's tutelage.
"The one advantage for us is that they are the one team [left] in the competition [play-offs] who, just like us, don't really have any players who have featured in knock-out games before.
"With the exception of [Wallaby veteran] George Smith they will also have a bunch of young guys who will be in that situation for the first time."
Drotské said he felt the pressure will be on the Brumbies.
"It is a home game [for the Brumbies], they won their [the Australian] conference and we finished sixth.
"We give ourselves a chance against any team, but as far as the pressure is concerned it is certainly on them."
Players to watch:
For the Brumbies: The first player on this list, without doubt, is veteran George Smith. Will this be his last appearance in a Brumbies shirt or will he extend his Super Rugby 'career' for another week at least? Of course you can't look past former South African Under-21 captain Clyde Rathbone, one of Jake White's surprise selections for this match. They have other gamebreakers - such as Jesse Mogg at fullback and Christian Lealiifano at inside centre (not to mention his goal-kicking). Then there are the men in the pack - captain Ben Mowen, hardy Scott Fardy, as well as veteran Wallaby front row forwards Ben Alexander and Stephen Moore.
For the Cheetahs: You don't have to look much further than wing Willie le Roux for the excitement factor, or centre Robert Ebersohn for the backline's chief organiser. The loose forwards - Philip van der Walt, Pieter Labuschagne and Heinrich Brüssow - have been the team's mainstay on defence, while hooker Adriaan Strauss and Coenie Oosthuizen provide the energy.
Head to head: You can find intriguing encounter across the park. Decisive battles could be in midfield - where Christian Lealiifano (Brumbies) will confront Robert Ebersohn (Cheetahs) - and in the set pieces. However, the most piquantly pleasant will be the battle of the openside flanks - George Smith (Brumbies) against Heinrich Brussow (Cheetahs).
2012: Brumbies won 24-23, Canberra
2011: Cheetahs won 47-36, Bloemfontein
2010: Brumbies won 61-15, Canberra
2009: Brumbies won 40-27, Bloemfontein
2008: Brumbies won 29-23, Canberra
2007: Cheetahs won 38-20, Bloemfontein
2006: Brumbies won 53-20, Canberra
Prediction: At the start of the season the Cheetahs weren't mentioned when competition favourites were discussed. Then, after losing their first two matches of the season, they were dismissed altogether as a team of substance. However, following an unprecedented three wins on their Australasian tour - including an unbeaten run in Australia - they made the other competitors sit up and take notice. Now that they have the attention of the Brumbies, and in particular head coach Jake White, the Cheetahs can expect a rather frosty welcome in the Australian capital. There is not much between the two teams, other than the home ground advantage, and that is why we feel the Brumbies will sneak a narrow win certainly by less than 10 points.
Brumbies: 15 Jesse Mogg, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Christian Lealiifano, 11 Clyde Rathbone, 10 Matt Toomua, 9 Nic White, 8 Ben Mowen (captain), 7 George Smith, 6 Peter Kimlin, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Scott Fardy, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Scott Sio.
Replacements: 16 Siliva Siliva, 17 Ruan Smith, 18 Fotu Auelua, 19 Colby Faingaa, 20 Ian Prior, 21 Andrew Smith, 22 Joe Tomane.
Cheetahs: 15 Hennie Daniller, 14 Willie le Roux, 13 Johann Sadie, 12 Robert Ebersohn, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Riaan Smit, 9 Piet van Zyl, 8 Philip van der Walt, 7 Pieter Labuschagne, 6 Heinrich Brüssow, 5 Rynhardt Landman, 4 Lodewyk de Jager, 3 Lourens Adriaanse, 2 Adriaan Strauss (captain), 1 Coenie Oosthuizen.
Replacements: 16 Ryno Barnes, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Petrus Vermeulen, 19 Johannes Prinsloo, 20 Sarel Pretorius, 21 Elgar Watts, 22 Ryno Benjamin.
Date: Sunday, July 21
Venue: Canberra Stadium, Canberra
Kick-off: 16.10 (08.10 SA time; 06.10 GMT)
Expected weather: Partly cloudy, showers and a minor chance of snow. Winds northwesterly 25 to 35 km/h. High of 7°C and a low of 1
Referee: Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Rohan Hoffmann (Australia), James Leckie (Australia)
TMO: Matt Goddard (Australia)
By Jan de Koning