Cheetahs hope for Super Rugby springboard
REACTION: Free State Cheetahs coach Franco Smith believes that if they 'stay grounded' and work hard they can use their Currie Cup success as a Super Rugby Springboard.
The Cheetahs outplayed the Bulls in a high-paced Currie Cup final in Bloemfontein at the weekend, winning 36-16 in a game that is reward for sticking to a masterplan, put in place 18 months ago.
However, Smith was quick to warn that Currie Cup success doesn't automatically translate into Super Rugby glory.
"We came with a plan 18 months ago," Smith told a post-match media briefing in Bloemfontein, adding: "We let a lot of senior guys go and started with a bunch of new guys.
"It is important to know that if you really work hard at something you can achieve it.
"You don't have to be a big name player or the best, but if you work hard you will succeed - that is the story of this win."
He said "hopefully" it will be a big springboard to a better Super Rugby season in 2017 - the Cheetahs having only once reached the play-offs as a standalone franchise (in 2013) and on only one other occasion finished higher than 10th place (1997).
"There is still a lot of work to be done," Smith said, adding: "We were nervous and repeated a lot of the mistakes we made in Super Rugby.
"You need to be comfortable under pressure to avoid reverting back to old habits.
"Yes, belief is the first aspect needed to be successful and that we maintained through a tough Currie Cup season."
The other key factor that could help the Cheetahs next year is that they are basically not losing any players.
"I worked with a squad of 54 players, so that if the top players are taken - for Springbok duty or bought by other teams - then the next guy would be available and able to step up.
"Those players will then be well-entrenched in the system and it would then not affect the team too much.
"We are working really hard - that is hours on the field - to develop a big squad so that we can maintain the quality of the brand that we have built."
He said expectations of turning a Currie Cup-winning season into a successful Super Rugby campaign could be a heavy burden.
"Last year we buckled a bit under expectation and lost by 50 points against the Bulls in the opening round of the Currie Cup," Smith said.
"The players now know, it is important for us to stay grounded and keep working on what we are doing here.
"You can't take expectation away.
"We must keep the objectives realistic for the players and we must not get ahead of ourselves - we must keep on building.
"We are looking forward to playing a lot of New Zealand sides in Super Rugby next year."
Having won the Currie Cup as a player (with the Blue Bulls in 1998) and as a coach (with the Free State Cheetahs this year) Smith is adamant that the Currie Cup must stay the flagship competition of South Africa.
"Super Rugby does have something special about it, but we will always produce good players in South Africa.
"A competitive Currie Cup competition is an important vehicle to ensure that happens."