In 18 matches last season, the Cheetahs conceded just 32 tries ... that’s less than two per game, on average. This year, having played seven times, Naka Drotske’s men have let in 29 tries and they’re not even halfway through their fixture list.
The Cheetahs’ poor tackling, or rather lack of solid defensive lines, has been their biggest obstacle this year and the sole reason why Drotske’s men have won just once and find themselves second from bottom on the Super Rugby log. Because, with 17 tries, they’re more or less averaging the number most teams have scored up to now.
Specialist coach Michael Horak, who worked on the Cheetahs’ defence last season and was credited with playing a big role in helping the side to the play-offs, left the Bloemfontein-based union at the end of last year. He coached the Shimlas in the Varsity Cup and is now with the Eastern Province Rugby Union.
Just last week, the Cheetahs ran in four tries against the defending champions, the Chiefs, and were well on their way to picking up a rare win, but they let their visitors score six tries and grab a draw.
“We decided on a defensive system last year. It worked well and we’ll keep following it,” Drotske was quoted as saying before the start of Super Rugby. “Everyone knows how it works and it’s just about keeping everyone on their toes.”
For the umpteenth time this week Drotske would have hammered home the point to his players of maintaining good defensive lines and making their tackles. Because, if they don’t, they could well be in for another knife-edge affair, this time against the Crusaders, who may not be as lethal with ball in hand as the Chiefs are, but have the potential to rip any side apart. More so, if that team’s defences aren’t water-tight.
The Crusaders will be upbeat about making it two-out-of-two in South Africa following their comfortable win against the Lions last weekend and even though they know they’ve come unstuck in Bloemfontein on their two previous visits, they know the Cheetahs are a vulnerable team at the moment. The Cheetahs won 20-13 and 33-20 when they last faced the Crusaders at home, but the mental state of both outfits is very different this year.
If there’s any news favouring the Cheetahs ahead of the clash, it’s that Drotske has been able to select the same squad that did duty last weekend. It means Trevor Nyakane will again start at loosehead prop ahead of Caylib Oosthuizen, while Jean Cook continues at No8.
Furthermore, Springbok flanker Heinrich Brüssow is again fully fit and will play for the Free State in the Vodacom Cup this weekend. Should he come through that game unscathed, against Western Province in Cape Town, he’ll be considered for the Cheetahs’ next Super Rugby game, against the Sharks in Durban next weekend.
Cheetahs: Willie le Roux, Cornal Hendricks, Johan Sadie, Ryno Benjamin, Hennie Daniller, Johan Goosen, Sarel Pretorius, Jean Cook, Lappies Labuschagne, Boom Prinsloo, Francois Uys, Lood de Jager, Maks van Dyk, Adriaan Strauss (capt), Trevor Nyakane. Replacements: Ryno Barnes, Caylib Oosthuizen, Rossouw de Klerk, Andries Ferreira, Oupa Mohoje, Shaun Venter, Elgar Watts, Howard Mnisi - The Star