Cheetahs ready to raise the bar
The Cheetahs may be bottom of the South African conference standings and also well down on the global table, but they could complete their most successful Super Rugby tour this coming Saturday.
Having finally won their first match on tour, after five years of failures, when they beat the Waratahs in Sydney last year, the Cheetahs returned to South Africa with six points from their Australasian excursion.
Having already collected six points from their three matches on the current trek - bonus points for losing by seven points and one point to the Crusaders and Brumbies respectively, along with the win over Rebels - the Cheetahs have now equalled their best tour performance.
Just a solitary bonus point against the Hurricanes in Wellington on Saturday will see them set a new benchmark for Bloemfontein sides on tour, but they are already aiming much higher - winning and taking their tally into double figures.
"The Hurricanes are a team that lost a lot of senior players [in the off season] and we feel we have a realistic chance of getting a win," Cheetahs coach Naka Drotské told this website in an exclusive interview.
"If we can play as we did against the Crusaders we will certainly have a shot [at a win]," he said of his team's effort in Christchurch last week - where they twice came back, from 3-18 and 11-21, to level the scores at 21-all before a late try gave the Crusaders the win.
Drotské said his team has worked on some aspects of their game, following last week's loss, which he hopes will help them secure the win in Wellington.
"We have already started working on our scrums," he said of the most penalised facet of the Cheetahs' game.
"We had two very young players [Lourens Adriaanse and Trevor Nyakane] who started for the first time on a tour in New Zealand.
"WP [Nel] and Coenie [Oosthuizen] are back, but we have worked hard on our scrums."
Drotské said they also worked on the breakdown.
"I feel the Crusaders had the better of us in that aspect," he said adding that if they are to play the Crusaders again he would consider changing tactics and flooding the breakdown with numbers.
"What they [the Crusaders] did well is when we were on the back foot, they rushed four, five and six players at a time into the breakdown.
"It [the breakdown] is not a crisis for me, as I feel that in our previous games we were very good at the breakdown.
"It is a case that that area is a speciality for the Crusaders in which they are very effective."
* Meanwhile the Cheetahs revealed that their eagerly-awaited Super Rugby match against the Lions on Easter Saturday (April 7) has been moved from Welkom to the Free State Stadium in Bloemfontein.
In a statement franchise MD Harold Verster said the Cheetahs said the move will allow them to accommodate more of their supporters, but it has been made primarily because of concerns around the North West Stadium's ability to safely host a capacity crowd.
"We have been working with the local stakeholders for a number of weeks on the relevant safety issues," he said.
"We decided, after much deliberation, not to host the match at Welkom's North West Stadium.
"We have decided the wisest course was to leave nothing to chance and move the match to Bloemfontein."
Supporters who had already bought tickets for the match would be able to obtain a full refund.
By Jan de Koning