JOHANNESBURG – No disrespect to the likes of Reinach Venter, Gunther Janse van Vuuren, Dennis Visser and Louis Conradie and a good few others, but one’s got to wonder how much the Lions and the other Currie Cup teams know about these men, who’re all currently running out for the Free State in the Currie Cup competition.
It’s very much a new-look Cheetahs team playing in the competition, with the “first-choice XV” playing in the Europe-based Pro14.
And the Lions, who host the Cheetahs in a round four clash at Ellis Park on Saturday, admit they don’t know much about the men they’ll be coming up against. And that, they say, makes preparing for them just a tad tougher than is normally the case.
“For sure they’re an unknown factor,” said Lions assistant coach Joey Mongalo about the Cheetahs team. “But, they’re a hungry team because all the guys are playing to get into the team playing in the Pro14. There’s a lot of desire in that side, and also plenty of X-factor, and they’re very unpredictable.”
Daan Human’s Free State side is made up of several junior players and fringe men, who’re getting their first taste of senior rugby.
Only a handful of players, like captain Rudy Paige, No 10 Louis Fouche, and loose-forwards Neill Jordaan and Gerhard Olivier, have some Super Rugby experience. The rest of the players are in their first season of playing at this level and are very much unknown entities to everyone they come up against.
Lions back Sylvian Mahuza agreed with Mongalo that he didn’t know what to expect of the men from Bloemfontein come Saturday afternoon.
“They look like an eager team, a young team, and there will be strength in that,” said the Lions winger. “They’re certainly going to pose a different threat to us than the Bulls did (a week ago). We don’t know what we’re going to get from them ... how they’re going to shoot up on defence and how they’re going to attack, and that makes them dangerous.”
Mahuza though is confident the Lions will be better off this week than they were a week ago when they had to come from behind to beat the Bulls. “We’re a new group (of players) and still need to properly connect, but after two weeks (of playing together) we’ll be better off this week.”
Mongalo also thought the Lions would be in a better position this Saturday to finally get their attacking game going. “We didn’t have much of a pre-season ... our first two games was our pre-season in a way, and we’ll be stronger now. It’s simply a matter of needing some time, which we’ve now had.”
The Cheetahs go into Saturday’s game having conceded 99 points in their three games so far - losses to the Bulls (12-34), Western Province (0-32) and Sharks (29-33). The Lions have won against Griquas (62-41) and the Bulls (38-35).
Both the Lions and Cheetahs teams will be announced today.
•The Free State, or Cheetahs as they’ve become known in recent years, have won the Currie Cup on four occasions (2016, 2007, 2005, 1976) and shared it once (with the Bulls in 2006). They have also been runners-up on nine occasions.
•Former captain Helgard Muller, who played for Free State between 1983 and 1998, is his province’s leading all-time representative, having run out a whopping 142 times for the union in the competition.