Local rugby is the Cheetahs’ only option
The suspension of all rugby across the globe due to the spread of the coronavirus has hit rugby hard, with only New Zealand and Australia seemingly in a position to get back into action soon.
South African rugby bosses are also keen to get a domestic competition up and running soon, but it seems that could be some way away, possibly only at level two of the national lockdown.
And the Pro14 returning to action any time soon is highly unlikely with international borders closed in most major cities and governments insisting on 14-day self-isolation requirements. But, according to Verster, the Cheetahs’ best hope of some rugby in 2020 could be in a competition including the other Pro14 team, the Kings, and the Super Rugby sides, the Bulls, Lions, Sharks and Stormers.
“Following from the discussions the Pro14 teams have had on Zoom, it seems like the Northern Hemisphere teams could be back around July and August, if everything goes well, but that won’t include the Cheetahs and Kings,” said Verster.
“There is a lot of uncertainty around starting again, but with international flights not likely to happen any time soon, we’ll be stuck here. I can’t see us travelling up north to play again until a vaccine is found.”
Verster added: “Everything’s dependent on what the government decides, and what the virus decides to do.”
Cheetahs coach Hawies Fourie said he and his players were “frustrated” by the current situation because “everything is out of our hands”.
“Of course, everyone wants to play. Hopefully, we can get to level three (of the lockdown) soon that will allow the guys to train in small groups. That would help,” said Fourie.
Currently, the players are training on their own at home. “At least for the last week or so the guys have been able to run outside their properties, which is great. We’ve done some time-trialing, but it will take some time for everyone to get up to the level required to play. Also, a lot of guys don’t have all the necessary gym equipment at home to help them stay in shape, so it’s all-round a frustrating period.”
But while the pause button has halted play in recent weeks, the contracting of players has gone on unabated. The Cheetahs have, in fact, been a busy bunch, signing up former schoolboy stars, wing Marcell Muller and loose-forward George Cronje, while it is understood Bulls player Jeandre Rudolph could also be on his way to Bloemfontein.
“We’ve got to think about next year,” said Fourie. “All the unions are contracting and looking at players at the moment that’s one thing that hasn’t stopped.
“We should have a strong group next year, but while we can go up to 45 players (according to the new regulations governing squad size), we’re likely to stop at around 35. We just don’t have the money to contract up to 45 players, so our depth won’t be great and it is a risk.”
Two seniors Fourie will bank on are Ruan Pienaar and Frans Steyn, who is set be ready for the next campaign.