Johannesburg – Despite losing twice to the Sharks in the Currie Cup and being underdogs going into their semi-final in Durban this weekend, Cheetahs captain Adriaan Strauss is quietly confident his team can win through to the final on Saturday.
The Cheetahs will go into the play-off on the back of a resounding win over the Blue Bulls, something Strauss says is hugely important ahead of a knockout game. “We took a lot of positives out of the game last weekend and for the guys’ confidence it was crucial to win. It’s always good to go into a game like this with some momentum behind you.”
The Cheetahs though have had an up-and-down season and lost their two previous games against the Sharks – 50-26 in Durban and 18-15 in Bloemfontein.
“We want to play positive rugby and we back ourselves against anyone, but we know what’s ahead for us. It’s not going to be easy and we’re certainly not living in a dream world,” said Strauss.
But, knockout rugby is very different to the regular season when scoring tries and bagging bonus points matter. On Saturday in Durban, all that’ll be on the minds of the players is winning. “Anything can happen from now on; it’s 50/50, and everything else that has happened this year means nothing. We back our abilities, but in the end it’ll come down to who is hungriest, who is most clinical in their execution and who handles the pressure best.”
Meanwhile coach Naka Drotske has made just one change to the side that beat the Bulls last weekend, bringing back wing and first choice goal-kicker Riaan Smit, who’s recovered from an injury. “In a semi-final, you will take every opportunity for points which come your way and that is why we have decided to include Riaan. He’s kicked 15 out of 15 attempts thus far and will be our go-to man with regards to kicking against the Sharks,” backline coach Hawies Fourie told the media in Bloemfontein on Wednesday.
Smit takes the place of Rayno Benjamin, who drops to the bench.
The Cheetahs have been bolstered in recent weeks by the availability of Springbok front-rankers Strauss and Coenie Oosthuizen and together with another Bok, Trevor Nyakane, the visitors to Durban pack a formidable front row.
“It’s a fairly settled team, that’s played together since Super Rugby, so that’s always good going into a semifinal. It certainly helps that the guys have played a lot together and know each other and me and Coenie coming back into the team is easy,” said Strauss, who was named the Cheetahs’ Player of the Year on Tuesday night.
Springbok flyhalf Johan Goosen, who got a few minutes off the bench against the Bulls after a long lay-off due to injury, will again start behind Elgar Watts.
Cheetahs: Hennie Daniller, Riaan Smit, Johan Sadie, Robert Ebersohn, Raymond Rhule, Elgar Watts, Sarel Pretorius, Philip van der Walt, Lappies Labuschagne, Boom Prinsloo, Lood de Jager, Francois Uys, Trevor Nyakane, Adriaan Strauss (capt), Coenie Oosthuizen. Replacements: Hercu Liebenberg, Rossouw de Klerk, Teboho Mohoje, Freddy Ngoza, Piet van Zyl, Johan Goosen, Rayno Benjamin. - The Star