The Toyota Cheetahs are back in Bloemfontein following their two-match tour of Ireland and Wales where they locked horns with Munster and the Ospreys in the first two rounds of the Guinness Pro14.
The trip up north was a tough start for the new look Cheetahs’ side, with two heavy defeats at the hands of their respective European counterparts.
Heading to Europe, only eight players in the 27-man travelling squad had previous experience in Pro14 rugby, and this was always going to mean that the side from the City of Roses would be going to Limerick and Swansea more on a learning mission than anything else.
Seeing that the Free State Cheetahs are also competing in the current Currie Cup, meant that the Cheetahs were limited in the size of the squad that they could take with. Two of three more players would have made life a little easier for the coaching staff.
However, with the coach, Franco Smith, naming two teams that were nearly exactly the same for the two matches, he has managed to create a little bit of continuity in the side with regards to team selection and guys having played together – that is a big positive.
Harsh lessons were learnt on the tour and one of those is that Northern Hemisphere rugby is a much more tactical game, and more similar to Test rugby rather than Super Rugby.
Territory in Europe is king and when a team is in trouble, the boot is the solution. This is something that the young and inexperienced side still needs to figure out for themselves, and the only way to do that is to learn the hard way – that is another positive.
In both games, the Cheetahs put up strong performances up until the 60th minute before the wheels started coming off, and that is all due to inexperience.
Smith is not too worried about the outcomes of the game, albeit that, of course, they want to win every match. The former Springboks centre and fly-half conceded that the expectation in this season of rebuilding must not be too high and the more experience the players get, the better the performances will be and the more positive the results will become.
“I don’t blame the players”, said Smith after the defeat in Swansea.
“They aren’t used to trying to play catch-up rugby with the ball in hand. In Europe one rather has to do that with the boot. At times we were unlucky.
“If we had just stuck to the game plan we could have perhaps made that count in our favour.
“We played too much rugby in our own half of the field and this led to the Ospreys having six or seven opportunities in our 22. That is just a lack of experience.
“In a Super Rugby game, the outcome of that may be different, while in Europe it is all about territory and how you are able to cope with the pressure.”
The Toyota Cheetahs will be playing their first home game of the season on Saturday evening when they tackle the Scottish side, Glasgow Warriors. It will be another tough challenge for the team, however, they will no doubt welcome playing at their fortress, the Toyota Stadium. Saturday’s game in Bloemfontein kicks off at 19:30. – MORGAN PIEK