Cheetahs coach stays home for Lions ambush
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Free State Cheetahs coach Franco Smith places so much value on winning the Currie Cup that he opted to stay home, rather than attend a SANZAR conference.
In stark contrast, the defending champion Golden Lions will arrive in Bloemfontein on Thursday, for a crucial Currie Cup league fixture, without head coach Johan Ackermann.
Ackermann and Golden Lions Rugby Union CEO Rudolph Straeuli headed to Sydney earlier this week for a four-day Super Rugby review session.
The Lions were left in the hands of assistant coach Swys de Bruin.
The decision by Ackermann to head to Sydney, for a series of meetings designed to review all aspects of Super Rugby, says a lot of how much faith they have placed in their coaching structures.
However, the Cheetahs mentor, Smith, sees it differently.
"[Director of Rugby] Rory Duncan will represent the Free State [Cheetahs] in Sydney," Smith told rugby365 in an interview ahead of the Round Seven crunch match.
"The Currie Cup is very important to us and that is why I did not travel to Sydney," he added.
The biggest problem for the Cheetahs is that they have had one day less to prepare.
The Lions played Western Province last Friday and raced to a 58-32 victory in Johannesburg. They started their build-up to Thursday's game this past Sunday already - allowing them a 'normal week' of preparation.
The Cheetahs, in contrast, travelled to Durban on Saturday, where they beat the Sharks 38-30, before heading back to Bloemfontein on Sunday. Their build-up only started on Monday.
Smith said, despite the short week, it won't influence their approach.
"It is deep into the season, so there is not that much to do," he told rugby365, adding: "Our focus would be to ensure all the players are fresh and well organised.
"I don't see the short week as a major issue."
Smith felt the Lions, despite having lost twice already this season and sitting outside the play-off positions, remain the team to beat.
"Everybody in South Africa knows that. Not only are they the defending [Currie Cu] champions, but they were also South Africa's best team in Super Rugby."
He added that the pace they play and the way they keep the ball alive is their biggest asset.
"We will have to be very good to match them," the Cheetahs coach said.
* Meanwhile it was confirmed that lock Carl Wegner is unlikely to feature in the Currie Cup season again after a recent neck injury proved to be more serious than first thought.
By Jan de Koning