Big defeat no measure of Cheetahs' status
REACTION: The Cheetahs may have started their pre-season matches with a big loss, but that is no measure of their ability to compete in Super Rugby this year.
The Currie Cup champions, the Cheetahs, suffered a 7-43 loss to the Stormers in a South African double-header in Harare at the weekend.
The cynics would suggest it is an indication the Cheetahs could be in for a long season and are way off the pace required for Super Rugby.
However, Cheetahs coach Franco Smith said nothing could be further from the truth.
With no major injuries, he came away from the match with plenty of answers to some of his most pressing pre-season posers.
Game time for players is top of his agenda.
"If you have a look at the squad, those were all players who have not played in a very long time," Smith told rugby365.
"There is no club rugby in Bloemfontein during the Super Rugby season, which means since June the bulk of these players had no game time whatsoever.
"As an example, Danie Mienie played 20 minutes in a pre-season warm-up match last year, before suffering a shoulder injury. Before that, his last rugby was for Griquas in 2015.
"That is just one player," the coach said, adding: "If you go through the game time of each player the last six months, then you will realise that is why the purpose of this match was to get the players back into our system."
Smith said they worked very hard in pre-season and beating the Stormers was not a priority.
"The Stormers clearly had more intensity and of all four teams in Harare [which also saw the Bulls beat the Lions] they were the sharpest.
"We clearly had different objectives than the Stormers," he told rugby365, adding: "My main goal was that if we suffer injuries during the season I need to know which players can step up against the big guns in Super Rugby.
"I said I wanted to build a strong squad of 54 players, so I can't just pay lip service to that statement.
"Because the Currie Cup was important to us and we wanted to perform, I had to work with a slightly smaller squad last year.
"That is why the pre-season is being used to develop our depth.
"We need to ensure that if we must make changes, it doesn't influence the performance of the team."
Apart from the minutes against the Stormers, the Cheetahs will also have two teams playing against the Sharks on Friday and, according to Smith, that is the 200 minutes that are available to him to trial his players.
"I want to, as far as possible, see where the players are and how they are adapting in terms of fitting into our system.
"After these games, we have just under a month to prepare for the season.
"It would be a major mistake to read something into the result [against the Stormers in Harare]."
By Jan de Koning