Cape Town - The
Cheetahs deserved their Currie Cup final triumph on Saturday considerably more
than the eventual scoreline of 31-28 suggests.
vanquished opponents the Lions confirmed that their squad “gees” runs deep -
something that traditionally applies in Super Rugby as well - by launching a
strong redemption drive in the closing 10 minutes which produced three tries in
their favour, they were ultimately flattered by the outcome on paper.
two prior lead-up matches, against Western Province and the Sharks
respectively, for their own remarkable comeback powers and ability to stay calm
when potential crisis flickered, this time the Free Staters did things the
other way around.
They all but
clinched the contest in their favour in an urgent, slick first half which saw
them open up a gaping 31-7 lead (four tries to one) at the break.
they not been thwarted early in the second period by a call-back for a TMO
study of a forward pass earlier in the move, to thwart substitute Jasper
Wiese’s dot-down, they would have widened the gap even more and possibly then
genuinely one-sided showpiece had been their own last triumph in the
competition, when they scuttled the Blue Bulls 36-16 at the same venue in 2016
… and before the Wiese try was disallowed a massacre of sorts looked very much
sweaty, to-and-fro pace of the opening 40 minutes (and those 38 points in the
process) receded into a relative stalemate - no further additions to the
scoreboard - for fully half an hour until the Lions launched their deceptive
clawback ahead of the hoisting of the trophy by the hosts.
with the dying embers of the Franco Smith regime as head coach, the Cheetahs
certainly timed their charge exquisitely this season, playing some of their
most crowd-pleasing rugby in the last three weeks or so and the people of the
province turning up in increasingly sterling numbers - culminating in a
near-full house on Saturday.
The big task
now is for the clearly fit, hungry and well-drilled outfit to take to the methods
of new mastermind Hawies Fourie quickly - fortunately he has served time in the
Free State culture before - and try to hit the ground running in their third
Guinness PRO14 campaign, starting in three weeks with a home date against
just be able to do that, as they have three Bloemfontein matches (further ones
against Irish heavyweights Ulster and Munster respectively) before they get on a
long-haul flight for the first time, and should still have sufficient mental
freshness and rosy morale in that opening period from their Currie Cup
inherit a group containing a pleasing emphasis on emerging young talent, while
vitally able this time to lean on veteran, strikingly in-form Springbok
scrumhalf Ruan Pienaar for his vast knowledge of the Celtic rugby scene from
his generous career spell with Ulster.
bristling 23-year-old hooker Joseph Dweba, a veritable piledriver in open
player and prolific try-scorer into the bargain, shapes up as a potential new
standout figure in PRO14 - simultaneously enhancing a personal charge for Bok
honours after the World Cup - and there could be others in the camp.
have to be wary of trumpeting an increasingly watered-down Currie Cup too much,
the Cheetahs do appear far better equipped for reaching the knockout phase
again, something they managed in their opening PRO14 campaign in 2017/18.
though, they receded into a tame sixth out of seven in their conference and
well off the quarter-final radar.
don’t stretch squad depth too much with a plague of injuries, they are highly
likely to lift their results standards appreciably in 2019/20, particularly if
the Bloemfontein public get meaningfully behind them for summer fixtures which
will test the stamina of northern foes coming, contrastingly, out of icy winter
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