JOHANNESBURG - Playing on two fronts finally got the better of the Cheetahs.
Having to split their players between the Europe-based Pro14 competition and the Currie Cup, the defending Cup champions crashed out of the competition at the hands of the Lions on Saturday.
It was a meek surrender, going down 44-17, even though the men from Bloemfontein pushed their strongest side into the field because the Pro14 competition - which the Cheetahs joined earlier this year after being kicked out of Super Rugby - is on a two-week break.
Head coach Rory Duncan admitted focusing on two competitions hurt the Cheetahs.
“Switching between Super Rugby, then Currie Cup, then Pro14 and then back to the Currie Cup ... and playing 13 games on the trot has been quite a balancing act,” said Duncan.
“Changing competitions didn’t make life easy, focusing on two competitions, but now we can concentrate on just the Pro14, even though we’re very disappointed to miss out on the semi-finals in the Currie Cup.”
Duncan though didn’t use the trying schedule as an excuse for his team’s demise against the Lions.
“We didn’t perform to our standards tonight; they’re higher than that. But we also have to give credit to the Lions ... they were hungry for the win and they had the desire. I’d like to think the scoreline wasn’t a true reflection of the game.”
The Lions out-scored the Cheetahs five tries to two, with the visitors’ five-pointers coming from an intercept and an 80th minute touchdown.
“The Lions were fantastic and were deserved winners and if they maintain that kind of form going forward they’ll be a difficult team to stop. Then again, Western Province showed they’re more than capable, too, and have put their hand up (by beating the Sharks in Durban to claim a home semi-final). It’s going to be an exciting run-in.”
The Cheetahs will now focus solely on the Pro14 competition.
“We’ve obviously got this week off now (because the Pro14 is still on a break) so can give the players some downtime and then we’re off to Italy and Ireland to play Zebre and Connacht," Duncan added.
"Then there’s another break which will allow the guys to refresh. We knew this was going to be a tough period for us, the guys are really being stretched, so managing them and rotating players will be crucial for us.”