Mission accomplished for Cheetahs
Ockert de Villiers - Sport24
Pretoria - The Cheetahs went into their season-ending match against the Bulls with the aim of playing a good brand of rugby and returned home with the mission accomplished and a historic 42-29 victory to boot.
Since taking the reins of the embattled Free State franchise a fortnight ago, Franco Smith said he wanted to rekindle the players’ enthusiasm for the game.
The players responded with a total of 11 tries in two matches with six in Saturday’s clash aiding them in their first ever victory over the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld and only their second over the Pretoria side in Super Rugby history.
“I definitely didn’t expect the win, nobody prepares to lose but the way the guys responded in the last six practices we had, I am really grateful,” Smith said.
“I’ve always said if you work hard the results will follow and the guys believed, so that is what it was about for us tonight.”
The Cheetahs ran in a fourth bonus point try before the half-time break and added two more in the second stanza with Niell Jordaan, Henco Venter, Clayton Blommetjies, Sarel Pretorius, Steven Sykes and Rayno Benjamin each crossing the whitewash.
The hosts scored four tries of their own, courtesy of a brace by Francois Hougaard, and one apiece for Pierre Spies and Jesse Kriel.
Smith admitted he had to adapt quickly to the pressures of coaching a Super Rugby franchise but he was delighted with the response from the players.
“I was a little bit in the deep end the last two weeks, so I just focused on what we can control, and I am happy that it did happen for us,” Smith said.
“Maybe the guys will keep on believing in the pre-season after the Currie Cup.
"It wasn’t the main objective tonight - we wanted to play a good brand, something the guys can believe in and I think we saw that.”
While his charges did not concede as many tries as they did against the Waratahs when the tourists put nine past the Cheetahs, Smith believed they still have a long way to go in fortifying their defensive systems.
“Defensively we made a step up from last week, but I think there is a lot work to be done,” Smith said.
“I was disappointed with two or three of the tries we gave away, one-on-one we missed tackles which is not acceptable.
“The pace with which we played the game was different than the guys are used to, so I can maybe excuse them.”
Smith said although he placed a high premium on defence, he aimed for a more balanced approach that included a ball-in-hand approach.
“Defence wins finals and that will definitely be a priority, but you must always try and strike a balance between a look-to-play attitude and a defensive attitude,” he said.
“We all have to adapt to that and the players will have to buy into it. It will take a huge physical effort and that is what we lacked tonight and we will rectify going into the Currie Cup.”
The former Springbok flyhalf hoped the brand of rugby he had in mind for the team would not only create excitement from the players but would inspire their supporters.
“There is a balance, we are not going to play touch rugby, we would like to coach the players to have the ability to play with the ball in hand,” Smith said.
“Success doesn’t necessarily mean wins, it means getting the players to believe and to be the new Cheetah heroes we would like them to be.”