New faces arrive at the Cheetahs next week

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Rynier Bernardo PHOTO: GALLO

The first crop of new faces at the Toyota Cheetahs will be reporting for duty at the team next week as the team begins their preseason for the upcoming Franchise Cup.

This comes in the wake of the mass player exodus which has rocked the franchise in recent times. The Cheetahs experienced several departures over the past few months and this was largely due to uncertainty over players’ future following their axing from the Guinness PRO14 last year.

The most urgent matter for the coach Hawies Fourie to address, was that of the second-row, which saw no less than six locks opting to further their careers elsewhere.

It can be confirmed that at least two new locks in the form of Rynier Bernardo and Jean Droste will fall in with the rest of the team next week after they have signed short-term contracts.

Bernardo is no stranger to the Cheetahs after having played for the team in 27 games, from 2017 to 2018. He left the Cheetahs in order to pursue an opportunity at the Canon Eagles in the Japanese Top League, but due to the Covid-19 pandemic has found himself without a contract in recent times.

Speaking to Bloemfontein Courant, the 29-year-old said that he is happy to be able to get an opportunity again after nine months away from the game.

“After working and doing some other things while I’ve been away from rugby, trust me, we always see the glass as full. It’s not a half full or half empty. I’ve come to appreciate rugby in the past few months.

“A competition is a competition. The Cheetahs’ brand now is one synonymous with being booted out of Super Rugby and PRO14, yet we will find a way. We will continue to sign players. Yes, there were mass exoduses of players leaving and going abroad. They haven’t held players back either, which is really admirable.

“With the Intercontinental Shield and Challenge Cup in Europe looming, it should be nice to be involved in a competition again. Initially, when I joined, I was thinking along the lines of Super Rugby back in 2017. Now, it’s the same scenario. This time one was thinking PRO Rugby, now it’s something again. Look how people in South Africa took the PRO14. With the potential move for the Cheetahs to Europe, people might just take to competition as well.”

The 27-year-old Droste, who will become a first-time dad in March, is a lot less experienced than Bernardo, but has played Super Rugby for the Sharks and the Bulls, while also having played for the Kubota Spears in Japan.

He in turn told Bloemfontein Courant that the opportunities for contracts are few and far between, he feels a move to the Cheetahs is the right one, and he looks forward to getting started next week.

“I’m really looking forward to the stay in Bloemfontein and I’m excited to get going with the team. With everything that is going on, contracts are bit difficult to come by. You need that opportunity to come your way. I’m thankful to the Cheetahs for giving me this opportunity to go out there play again and prove myself.

“For me, it is a good move to come to the Cheetahs and hopefully I will be able to get a lot of game time. I’m looking forward to the challenge, meeting everyone here, and the season that lies ahead. Whatever lies ahead we are not sure about yet, but we’re looking forward to the unknown as well.”

Another exciting signing by the Cheetahs is that of the loosehead prop, Alulutho Tshakweni. Tshakweni is a former Junior Springbok and during the 2018 World Rugby under 20 Championship in France, he made five appearances for the Baby Boks. The product of Hudson Park High School in East London also represented the Southern Kings in 11 PRO14 games in during the 2018/19 season.

On Friday, the former Springbok flank, Jacques Potgieter, will undergo a fitness and medical test at the Cheetahs, and should the 34-year-old pass, he will also be offered a short-term contract. – MORGAN PIEK