Photo: Gerhard Steenkamp, BackpagePix

BLOEMFONTEIN – Cheetahs coach, Franco Smith, is aware of the challenge to be faced by his team when they take on the touring Crusaders in their Super Rugby match in Bloemfontein on Saturday, hoping for a season’s best performance to have any chance of overcoming the seven-time champions.

Although the Crusaders may be relishing getting stuck into the Cheetahs after tasting SA blood against the Stormers in a 57-24 hammering in Christchurch last weekend, Smith was phlegmatic. He was instead focusing his team on the required task.

“If we wait until Friday or Saturday before we recover from this (their late loss to the Bulls), we’re going to get a big klap.

“We are going to do like we did against the Chiefs, play to where we are strong. I don’t think it will be difficult to get the players up again to play an international side; to play an All Black side will be a challenge.

“We did really well against the Chiefs but it is important now to bounce back on Monday, not with an attitude, but with the right attitude.

“That is important for the Cheetahs, we always want to be significant and make our supporters proud.

“We will not be able to wait until halfway through the week before we put this behind us,” he said.

Smith identified a concerning feature of their season – their inability to finish teams off, often fading in the final quarter. The Cheetahs have lost several games which they fought hard to win – and were in a position to do so, passing the 70-minute mark in the lead.

“It is heartbreaking. I tip my hat for the players, they turn up every Monday and they put the work in, but it is disappointing. I think they deserve better for the hard work they put in.

“These guys have come a long way now, they’ve grown immense as people and players. We will take it as quickly as possible, and grab the opportunity by the horns.”

The Cheetahs are clearly being affected psychologically by the looming reduction of Super Rugby to 15 teams for 2018, in which two SA franchises and one Australian one are to be cut.

The Kings from the Eastern Cape and the pride of Bloemfontein are widely considered most under threat, with some pundits mentioning the Bulls as a possible target.

The Cheetahs had implemented a four-year player development plan in 2016, which would clearly be difficult – if not impossible – to bring to fruition, without having the premier southern hemisphere franchise competition available locally anymore.

“We are trying to deal with it, we spent a lot of time with our mental coach trying to put it to one side but unfortunately it is a big monkey sitting on our backs,” he said.