Cheetahs have won hearts and minds in Europe

The Toyota Cheetahs prop offloading during their 28-21 win over the defending champions, Scarlets, on 2 December 2017. This kind of play is typical of the Cheetahs trying to keep the ball alive for a free-flowing game. PHOTO: JOHAN PRETORIUS

The Toyota Cheetahs are facing the defending Guinness Pro14 champions, Scarlets, on Saturday in the semi-final qualifier of the tournament, and this is already building up to a cracking affair.

In their first season, the Cheetahs have exceeded everybody’s expectations and this weekend’s match has already been billed as the game of the tournament. Whether the Cheetahs win or lose over the weekend, they have already left an impression on rugby fans in Wales, Scotland, Ireland and Italy.

While the Cheetahs may not always play winning rugby, and have left fans and spectators somewhat frustrated in the past, their trademark brand of running and attacking rugby is what people want to see.

Expansive rugby is something that comes naturally to the team and one simply has to drive a kilometre down the road from the Toyota Stadium to the rugby factory, Grey College, to see where it all starts. Grey’s attacking rugby was on display in its full glory again over the past few days during the annual Wildeklawer Festival in Kimberley.

In recent years other South African teams have tried to adopt a more New Zealand approach to the game, but haven’t been quite as successful, and this is due to it being instilled from a young age in the Free State.

This is also something that the current Director of Rugby at the Cheetahs and soon to be head coach again, Franco Smith, has tried reignite at the team, namely attractive rugby.

The Pro14 Communications Manager and spokesperson, Adam Redmond, told Courant that the Cheetahs have become everybody’s second favourite team because of the way the team approaches the sport.

“I don’t know how much the people really expected from the Cheetahs, but I tell you something, they have won a lot of fans up here.

“They have kind of become people’s second favourite team. We get a lot of requests on social media for us to screen their games on Facebook and YouTube, because people in the UK & Ireland want to see the brand of rugby that the Cheetahs play.

“It’s similar to Scarlets, Glasgow Warriors and Leinster, who are the teams in our tournament who like to play attacking rugby.”

While both teams really do enjoy playing an expansive brand of rugby, this does without a doubt lend itself to what is expected to be one thrilling game come Saturday evening.

Speaking to Courant from Llanelli, the Scarlets’ head coach, Wayne Pivac, agreed that the knockout match will be the game of the season.

“I would agree with your comment, we certainly enjoyed our game up in Bloemfontein. We did have a young side over with about 15 or 16 players unavailable, but, we certainly learnt enough about the Cheetahs to know that they are very strong and love to play an expansive game.

“As long as the weather is right, and it is supposed to be, we should certainly see a free-flowing game.

“Both teams love to counterattack and have very skillful players. From a purist’s point of view and from a spectator’s point of view, I think that the game is going to have something for everyone.”

Saturday evening’s big game between the Scarlets and the Cheetahs at Parc Y Scarlets in Llanelli kicks off at 19:35. – MORGAN PIEK