Breyton Paulse

Cheetahs can cause chaos

2011-05-26 08:55
Breyton Paulse
Breyton Paulse

You won’t find many people complaining that the Super Rugby format is boring as we head into an absorbing deciding month of the league phase before going into the play-offs.

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Just two log points separate the top two teams in the New Zealand conference and anything can still happen in the South African conference if the Stormers don’t finish their tour well. So at this stage it is only Australia, with the Reds heads and shoulders above everyone else there, where it looks clear cut.

But I do think this past weekend could be looked back on later as the deciding round in the South African conference, for the Stormers’ excellent comeback win against the Blues was worth far more to them than just the log points that were on offer.

By winning at a venue like Eden Park with an under-strength team missing quality players like Peter Grant, Jean de Villiers and Jaque Fourie the Stormers made a massive statement that wasn’t dissimilar to the one that the Crusaders made against them in Cape Town a few weeks previously.

Okay, so there were fewer Stormers Springboks missing in Auckland than there were All Blacks missing from the Crusaders side at Newlands, but the starring role that the new centre combination of Juan de Jongh and Johann Sadie played in the Stormers comeback should have inspired a lot of confidence.

It shows that they do have depth and, more importantly, they can rely on their depth, which maybe means the Stormers should be more prepared to rotate selections in an attempt to keep all the players fresh than they have been up to now. The one thing that still counts against the Stormers is the timing of their byes in this year’s competition, and if they don’t finish in the top two and thus are involved in the extra play-off week it will mean they have to play 11 consecutive weeks (their bye was at the halfway point) in order to win the trophy.

That is a tall order, and they are going to have to find clever ways to keep the players fresh. But their chances of making the top two, which would mean them enjoying a bye before the play-offs, were considerably boosted in Auckland as some of the other teams in the top three still have to play each other. The Crusaders play the Reds this coming Sunday and the Blues play the Crusaders the following week.

Before this past weekend there were big questions being asked about the Stormers’ mental strength following the losses to the Chiefs and Crusaders. If you can come back from 19-3 down away from home with a scrumhalf playing at flyhalf and then win it off the penultimate move of the game you have to have some BMT.

And if they didn’t have it before Auckland, the Stormers will have it now as the situation they found themselves in was just what is needed to overcome any kinds of doubt about temperament. I really believe now that the Stormers can go all the way and win the tournament – and much more importantly, so will they.

But if the Stormers were the performers of this past weekend it is the Cheetahs who are most deserving of praise right now for the way they have upped their game. They did everyone a massive favour with their win over the Crusaders, but they can still cause massive chaos in the South African conference as they still have to play the Bulls, Sharks and the Stormers.

We all know the Cheetahs can play great attacking rugby but what has impressed is the way they have upped their attacking game. They are a team of no real super-stars but they have great gees (team spirit) and they look like they are boiling over to play for one another.

That is precisely the opposite of what appears to be happening at the Sharks, where the wheels really look like they are coming off. The way they played against the Bulls, with the number of unforced errors they made, really helped the Bulls and in some ways it detracted from the message that the Bulls appeared to make.

However it is obvious that some of the Bulls players who were not performing before are now starting to put it together again and it is great to see players like Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha rediscovering their old authority.

They are going to have to really go some to catch the Stormers in the race for conference honours but they are in with a great chance of making the play-offs and from there who knows what they are capable of. Few other sides have the experience of playing and winning knock-out matches that the Bulls do.

The Powerade Chosen One for this week is the entire Cheetahs team for the way they have come back and confounded their critics by winning four matches in a row. Don’t completely write off their chances of making it five in a row in Pretoria at the weekend.

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Breyton Paulse is a former Springbok player and is the Powerade "Chosen One" expert columnist

Disclaimer: Sport24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on Sport24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sport24.


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