The Toyota Cheetahs recently returned from their three-match tour of Ireland and Wales where they played matches against Connacht, Scarlets and the champions, Leinster, in the Guinness Pro14.
While the team returned to Bloemfontein without earning a single point, more valuable lessons were learnt, which will help the team with the 2019/20 campaign.
Even in the Super Rugby days, the Cheetahs were everybody’s second favourite side, and in Europe, this is no different. Apart from their exciting brand of rugby persuading fans up north turning blood orange, a group of die-hard Cheetahs supporters has done their fair share as well.
In Bloemfontein we have become accustomed to the Irish teams, in particular, travelling with armies of supporters, and now the Cheetahs are getting their own supporters in Ireland.
A group of expats living in Ireland has been travelling to every single game in the Emerald Isles since the Cheetahs became a part of the Pro14 back in 2017.
“To watch the Cheetahs is like having a piece of home here in Ireland,” says Marinus Els, one of two founding members of the Cheetahs supporters group.
“It may not make a lot of sense to other people, but if you live here in Ireland, every part of South Africa you can have with you and experience is worth its weight in gold.”
At the beginning of the current Pro14 season, Els and JJ du Toit, who are both chartered accountants with Ernst & Young in Ireland, started getting South Africans together to support the Cheetahs. Whether their team plays rugby in Limerick, Galway or in Dublin, they make their way to the game and they make sure that they are seen and heard.
“For us, it is really ‘lekker’, and I think that the players enjoy it as well,” says Du Toit.
“The ‘gees’ we bring, can clearly be heard and seen at each game, and if you really listen carefully it can be heard on the television as well. The best is how the Irish supporters not only respect the players on the field, but also the supporters of the opposition team. The Irish always want to hear if we enjoyed and if we feel welcome. That all contributes to the experience.”
In Galway, these fans caught the attention of the local media, and when the Cheetahs coach, Franco Smith, was asked if he knew who they were, he conceded that he had no idea, but they as a team really appreciated the support.
“We knew that there was going to be some support over here. I don’t know if they will be travelling with, but it will be great if they can. I think that they are South Africans living here who started supporting us and that is exciting.
“When I coached Benetton Rugby and we were new to the competition as well, the Italian support also grew.
“I hope what we will see the support for us on pitches in Europe more often. To get some more Cheetahs support in Europe will be exciting.”
While the Cheetahs haven’t really lived up to everybody’s expectations this season, they are certainly masters of winning hearts and minds, and it will be fantastic to see this die-hard support spilling over into Wales, Scotland and Italy as well. – MORGAN PIEK / ELSJE DU TOIT