Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – Collecting only a losing bonus point from their
Super Rugby derby against bogey side the Bulls on Saturday night means the
Cheetahs face a nervy few weeks once the competition resumes for them in late
They will also have to try to overcome a long-time jinx of
another kind when they tackle the Stormers immediately after the recess at
Newlands on June 29.
Having slipped to fifth overall, Adriaan Strauss’s team are
probably involved now in a three-way tussle for two playoffs slots with the Crusaders
and Blues, although various others – including the Stormers and Sharks – still
harbour increasingly faint hopes of qualification.
That pair of New Zealand sides are snapping at their heels,
each with three games left as opposed to the Cheetahs’ two – a situation that
brings an advantage but also possible pitfall for the Free Staters, who are
trying to reach the knockout phase for the first time.
They and the Reds, one notch above them in fourth on the
overall table, are the only two sides remaining in the competition with four
bye points yet to bank, and the Cheetahs will collect theirs on the final
weekend of ordinary season.
Those points could prove to be manna from heaven for Naka
Drotske’s charges, but if it is found that five points is the requirement by
then for the Cheetahs to squeeze through the playoffs tube, the quartet could
become a curse instead as the side from Bloemfontein kick their heels as the
only non-playing team in the last round.
Everything hinges on how the Cheetahs fare, then, in their
fixtures before that against the Stormers away and then Blues at home (July 6).
Win both and the Cheetahs will be in the playoffs, plain and
simple: that is a nice incentive for them to chew on during the competition’s
But if they lose to the Stormers, who are showing no signs
of throwing in the “competitiveness” towel even though they are all but dead
and buried for qualification, that Blues encounter becomes a real white-knuckle
There are no guarantees that the Cheetahs will overcome the
Capetonians: they have not won at Newlands in Super Rugby, after all, in four
visits since a 31-25 triumph in 2006 (their first season as an independent
entity since the dismantling of the “Cats” alliance with the Golden Lions).
So they could enter that clash with almost the same sort of
psychological cloud hanging over them that they more routinely suffer against
No wonder, then, that in New Zealand it is also being
speculated that the Cheetahs-Blues meeting in Bloemfontein could be pivotal to which
of the two progresses – Gregor Paul suggested as much in the New Zealand Herald
“The fact that the Waratahs and Cheetahs both lost over the
weekend means that the Blues’ defeat (to the bottom-placed Highlanders) in
Dunedin was more disappointing than disastrous.
“The fight for the last playoffs spot would appear to be
between the Cheetahs, Blues and Crusaders ... (the Bloemfontein game) looms as
Conveniently forgotten from a New Zealand point of view,
maybe, is that before their Cheetahs challenge, the Blues must also tackle the
Sharks on the road, and by then the Durban-based side may have plenty of their
known heavyweight names finally fit again.
These are the
remaining matches for the trio:
Cheetahs (played 14, fifth with 46 points): Stormers (a),
Blues (h), bye.
Crusaders (played 13, sixth with 46 points): Highlanders
(a), Chiefs (h), Hurricanes (h)
Blues (played 13, seventh with 43 points): Sharks (a),
Cheetahs (a), Chiefs (h).
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