Cape Town - Free State Cheetahs coach Franco Smith is confident that his team will keep improving as the Currie Cup season progresses.
The Cheetahs tackle Griquas in Kimberley on Friday (19:10 kick-off) and will be eager to notch a victory after starting the competition with back-to-back losses.
They were humbled 57-19 at home by the Blue Bulls in their first game, but showed marked improvement in a 9-3 loss to Western Province in Cape Town last week.
The Cheetahs defended like Trojans at Newlands and came close to snatching a win at the death when centre Rayno Benjamin knocked the ball on with the tryline begging.
“There was definite improvement,” Smith said at a press conference in Bloemfontein on Wednesday.
“Especially the way we committed on defence, was exceptional. It all came down to one metre in the end, we could just as well have come back with four points from there and that’s because the guys kept working hard and kept constructing.”
Smith is confident that the players have put the nightmare start against the Bulls behind them.
“Against the Bulls, on the day I think the moment became too big and the score ran away with us and we got nervous.
“We made errors that we hopefully will not make again. So definitely, I think we’re (now) much more of a team.
“We went through a big physical battle (against WP). There were a lot of bumps and bruises after this week that wasn’t there the week before. So I think it’s clearly game time that was lacking in the first game.
“For me personally, the defensive effort, and what we achieved there (Newlands), was exceptional. That was one of our objectives, as well as the breakdowns, and I think we came out well. So we’ll definitely be better.”
The bruising physical battle at Newlands took its toll though, with Smith forced to make a few injury enforced changes for the clash against Griquas.
In the backline, Clayton Blommetjies moves from wing to fullback, replacing AJ Coertzen, who has picked up an ankle injury.
Sergeal Petersen moves into the right wing position to make his Currie Cup debut for the Cheetahs.
Up front, the Cheetahs will be without star loose forward Boom Prinsloo, who is sidelined with a broken jaw. He will be out for between four and eight weeks.
Gerhard Olivier replaces Prinsloo in the No 6 jersey, while Freddy Ngoza and Ruan van Rensburg are new additions on the bench.
Smith has acknowledged that the loss of Prinsloo is a big one, but he’s confident that they would be able to overcome the setback.
Tienie Burger will be asked to cover loose forward off the bench.
“Fortunately I kept Tienie in the mix most of the time. And with all the Super Rugby experience that he’s gained, he is quite confident slotting in there. We are fortunate although we will miss Boom from an experience point of view," said Smith.
Looking ahead to the clash against their neighbours, Smith predicted another special occasion.
“The fields here are hard and the people even tougher. There’s a lot of pride in the central region of South Africa," he said.
"We are quite used to hard conditions, and I don’t think the drought is helping, but it’s the type of person that then mentally learns to deal with tough issues... and that makes it a really tough game because the people are proud and they play with guts and with their hearts. That’s what Free State stands for as well. This region is all about honesty and guts.”
15 Gouws Prinsloo, 14 Ruhan Nel, 13 Jonathan Francke, 12 Michael
Van Der Spuy, 11 Ntabeni Dukisa, 10 Riaan Viljoen, 9 Tian Meyer (captain), 8 Carel
Greeff, 7 Hilton Lobberts, 6 RJ Liebenberg, 5 Hugo Kloppers, 4 Jonathan
Adendorf, 3 Stephan Kotze, 2 AJ Le Roux, 1 Danie Minnie
Substitutes: 16 Martin Bezuidenhout, 17 Ewald Van Der
Westhuizen, 18 Jaco Nepgen, 19 Leon Karemaker, 20 Rudi van Rooyen, 21 Clinton
Swart, 22 Jacquin Jansen
Free State Cheetahs
15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Sergeal Petersen, 13 Francois Venter, 12 Rayno Benjamin, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Fred Zeilinga, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 Niell Jordaan, 7 Henco Venter, 6 Gerhard Olivier, 5 Francois Uys (captain), 4 Armandt Koster, 3 Luan de Bruin, 2 Jacques du Toit, 1 Caylib Oosthuizen
Substitutes: 16 Elandre Huggett, 17 Maks van Dyk, 18 Reniel Hugo, 19 Tienie Burger, 20 Freddy Ngoza, 21 Ruan van Rensburg, 22 Sias Ebersohn