Super Rugby cull: Fear of failure choking Cheetahs
SUPER RUGBY SPOTLIGHT: The great Super Rugby cull has been choking up the Cheetahs all season.
Cheetahs coach Franco Smith told rugby365 that rumours of a format change - which was confirmed earlier this week - had been weighing heavily on the shoulders of his players.
From the outset, the grapevine suggested the Cheetahs were one of the teams on the 'shortlist' to be axed when the competition is reduced to 15 teams next year.
Those rumours were confirmed this week when SANZAAR revealed that two teams from South Africa and one from Australia will be cut from the roster next year.
And the South African Rugby Union have started the culling process when representatives of the six Super Rugby franchises on Tuesday agreed to a set of criteria to determine which four teams will represent the country in the competition from next year.
The CEOs of the franchises and other committee members identified the areas on which the teams would be measured.
The agreed 'headline' criteria, which have been weighted, include financial and economic sustainability; a sustainable support base; team performance; and stadium and facilities.
SARU will collate the applicable data to prepare a recommendation to go back to the franchise committee, to make a decision on the final four teams.
However, the uncertainty - whether they will face the axe or not - will continue to hover over the Cheetahs, ahead of their Round Eight encounter with the Chiefs in Bloemfontein on Saturday.
"From the outset, when the rumours started that we could be kicked out of Super Rugby, we have sat with this 'gorilla' [monkey on the back]," Smith told rugby365.
"It has affected the spontaneity of the players on the field, their creativity.
"Sometimes they tried too hard and try to make the correct decision, instead of just making a decision."
Smith said it is an issue they have had to face for weeks and the players are busy dealing with it.
"It will remain a tough issue to deal with, but I feel the players will believe they can rise above it and express themselves on the field.
"Hopefully we will have set that aside when we run out against the Chiefs.
"We will work on ensuring it doesn't add to the pressure.
"We want to go out and make our supporters proud."
By Jan de Koning