I’m proud of the boys – Van Reenen

The Toyota Cheeths beat the French Top14 team, Section Paloise, twice during the group stages to secure their place in the last 16 of the EPCR Challenge Cup. PHOTO: INPHO/FRED PORCU

The CEO of Free State Rugby, Ross van Reenen, has hailed the spirit of the Toyota Cheetahs following their nail-biting last-gasp victory over Section Paloise on Sunday, to advance to the knockout rounds of the EPCR Challenge Cup in Parma, Italy.

The Cheetahs, who are playing in the European competition on a special invite, beat the French Top 14 club 9 – 6 thanks to a last-minute penalty by the flyhalf, Siya Masuku. The victory knocked Pau out and for the Cheetahs, it means that they continue in the tournament. They will get to tackle one of the biggest teams in the game – the French giants, Toulon.

As an invitational team, the Cheetahs always had the odds stacked against them and unlike any of the other teams, they had to play their “home games” at Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi in Parma.

The team’s mission was always to make it through to the round of 16 and prove that they belong in a major international competition. It is safe to say that the Bloemfontein-based outfit passed the test, albeit by the skin of their teeth.

Van Reenen told Bloemfontein Courant that it was a close call for the Cheetahs but he is proud of their performance. Being able to overcome the odds is the sign of a quality team.
“I’m extremely happy with the team. It was a difficult match. They played really well but unfortunately, they made a lot of mistakes and it could have gone either way,” said the former lock.

“I’m very happy with the results. They showed tremendous fight, spirit, and character. Those are the things that make teams win – when they can come back from literally a disaster and actually pull the game through. I’m very proud of the boys for making it into the round of 16.

“We’ve been kicked out of Super Rugby, PRO Rugby and we’ve been isolated from the European championships. But now we’re there – we’re in the last 16. I’m extremely proud. It’s a great thing for the Free State supporters and the Cheetahs.”

The Cheetahs’ match against Toulon will be played at Stade Mayol in France on the weekend of 31 March to 2 April. For now the team will enjoy a break before shifting their focus to the opening rounds of the Currie Cup. – MORGAN PIEK