Cape Town - Cheetahs coach Franco Smith believes the Bloemfontein-based franchise deserves to retain its Super Rugby status.
Recent media reports have indicated that the Super Rugby competition could be reduced from 18 to 15 teams from next year.
South Africa could reportedly lose two teams, with the Cheetahs and Southern Kings - South Africa’s worst performing franchises - possibly axed from the tournament.
Smith, however, has called on SANZAAR bosses to not exclude the Cheetahs.
“I believe it would be a real tragedy if the Cheetahs were to be cut from Super Rugby in the near future. The impact it would have if the Cheetahs are not part of Super Rugby would be enormous,” Smith said in an exclusive interview with Sport24.
The player exodus abroad could become worse, Smith predicted.
“South Africa would lose many more talented players abroad because the remaining local franchises would simply not be able to accommodate all of them. Furthermore, it would deprive the central region of South Africa of something very special. We must remember that Cheetahs rugby doesn’t only exist out of Bloemfontein. The franchise also comprises players from the Griqualand West and Welkom areas," Smith said.
The Cheetahs’ brand of rugby is also good for the popularity of the game, Smith stressed.
“If you ask anybody that is honest about rugby, the Cheetahs are most supporters’ second team in SA and that is a tag we carry with pride. Moreover, it must say something because as a province we boast two teams competing in the Varsity Cup. We possess a rich pipeline of talent, and while it has proved challenging keeping some of our premier players over the years due to restricted financial resources, we have remained competitive,” Smith continued.
“I’m adamant the impact the Cheetahs have made over the years in South African rugby must be recognised by us retaining our Super Rugby status. The open style of play in Free State has always influenced SA rugby in some way and I see as a symbol for the enterprise and fighting spirit which exists within our game.”
The Cheetahs are in Cape Town this weekend where they are tackling the Stormers in a Super Rugby clash at Newlands.
Kick-off is scheduled for 15:05 on Saturday.
15 SP Marais, 14 Cheslin Kolbe, 13 EW Viljoen, 12 Dan du Plessis, 11 Dillyn Leyds, 10 Robert du Preez, 9 Jano Vermaak, 8 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 7 Siya Kolisi (captain), 6 Cobus Wiese, 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 JC Janse van Rensburg
Substitutes: 16 Ramone Samuels, 17 Caylib Oosthuizen, 18 Oli Kebble, 19 Chris van Zyl, 20 Nizaam Carr, 21 Dewaldt Duvenage, 22 Kurt Coleman, 23 Dan Kriel
15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Sergeal Petersen, 13 Francois Venter (captain), 12 Niel Marais, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Fred Zeilinga, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 Henco Venter, 7 Oupa Mohoje, 6 Paul Schoeman, 5 Francois Uys, 4 Armandt Koster, 3 Johan Coetzee, 2 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 1 Charles Marais
Substitutes: 16 Elandre Huggett, 17 Ox Nche, 18 Tom Botha, 19 Carl Wegner, 20 Niell Jordaan, 21 Tian Meyer, 22 Nico Lee, 23 Luther Obi