It’s been quite a turn-around by the Cheetahs.
Only a few months ago in Super Rugby they were struggling to score tries (47) and let in a quite staggering 48, and won only four times in 15 outings.
Now, having topped the try-scoring charts in the Currie Cup (49 in eight matches in the round robin phase) and had the best defensive record (having let in 18 in eight), they’re days away from hosting the 2016 Currie Cup final. On Saturday coach Franco Smith will lead his team into battle against the Blue Bulls, but it’s not at all a surprise to the former Bok centre.
“I had a good idea of what we were capable of after the first few games in the competition,” said Smith yesterday.
“And lets be honest, you prep your team to win every time they go out there, so what we’ve done so far is just what we prepared to do. In every match your goal is to play well and win, and we’ve done that ... without being arrogant,said Smith. “I’m not at all surprised we’ve won nine in a row.”
The secret behind his team’s change in fortunes since Super Rugby, said Smith, was down to the fact his young group of players have learned from last year’s Currie Cup and Super Rugby.
“A lot of these guys played in their first Super Rugby competition this year and we all know how tough it is. They came straight out of Varsity Cup so had to learn about playing at that level; that is everything that goes with it, like the travelling, the quick turn-around time, changes in time zones ... it was a big stage for them and they had to adapt.
“Also, we worked hard in the gym, the players’ physical attributes have improved from last year this time and as we’ve gone on the belief in the players has grown,” said Smith.
“I’m realistic though ... we’re far from being the finished product, but we’re in a good space ahead of the final.
There are no injury concerns in the Cheetahs camp, even though star players, prop Ox Nche and centre Nico Lee, left the field against the Lions on Saturday. “Everyone is fine ... we’ll assess all the players and make a call later in the week,” said Smith, who added Springbok loose-forward Oupa Mohoje could be in line for a recall to the matchday squad.
Mohoje was overlooked for the semi-final, Smith deciding to go with the players who brought him to the play-offs, but with a Springbok tour to Europe around the corner, national coach Allister Coetzee may request that the No 7 flank get some game time this weekend.
“It’s always best to keep the same group together and we know how important continuity is, but Oupa brings something different to the mix. We’ll have a good look at what’s needed to win this weekend and then make a call ... everyone’s going to be considered.”
It would take a brave coach though to change a team that’s coming off a 55-17 win against the defending champions, so don’t expect many new faces.