Goodbye Burton, hello Elgar
A week is a long time in rugby, just ask Burton Francis.
The well-travelled Toyota Cheetahs pivot has gone from hero to nowhere in the space of a few short weeks in Bloemfontein.
Rising from nowhere to help the Cheetahs out of an injury-crisis to winning the game against the Stormers with a last-gasp penalty kick, and just a few weeks later finding himself surplus to requirements.
Francis has perhaps been harshly treated, but it isn’t too much of a stretch to pose the question if he was given the blame for the Cheetahs loss to the Hurricanes?
Perhaps that is oversimplifying it, but Naka Drotske’s side has played an open deck with the way they want to take on the Reds, shunning a close game for an all-out attacking assault on the Australian title-contenders in their Vodacom Super Rugby match on Saturday.
It is a risky venture, and one that may pay off big, but it is also one that can backfire much like it did last week against the Hurricanes where the Cheetahs gave their opposition way too much front-foot ball and allowed the Canes to dictate the terms of play.
Last week the Cheetahs spoke at length about controlling the ball, attacking through the setpiece and through the rolling maul. Neither of these materialised as they tried to go toe to toe with one of the best counter-attacking sides and lost through defensive lapses.
This week there have been personnel changes, most notably Francis being dumped for Elgar Watts, who Drotske feels is a more attacking option.
“What is important with the flyhalf position – if you look at our pre-season then Elgar was our No 2 choice with Johan Goosen No 1 and Riaan No 3. Burton got his chance when there were a lot of injuries and he did a really good job,” Drotske said.
“But at this stage we decided we are going to go for a more attacking option and that is definitely Elgar. With Johan Goosen out, he is our best attacking option. He also played well tactically on Saturday when he came on. That’s why we decided on him.”
It wouldn’t be surprising to see Francis feeling aggrieved, after all his accurate goalkicking was one of the reasons the Cheetahs are still in the hunt for the SA conference title at the moment, and the 70 points he has contributed in his limited time at 10 this season have been extremely valuable for the Bloemfontein side.
Still, the Cheetahs feel Watts can make a more telling attacking contribution, and want to take on the Reds at their own game. But Watts will have much pressure on him against the Wallaby duo of Quade Cooper and Will Genia, who are able to exploit weaknesses with their attacking prowess.
Drotske perhaps touched on the aspect that will make the most difference in the outcome of the game – defence. As the Sharks showed last week, a lack of defensive structures can see you lose the game before halftime.
And while there are those who feel a more structured approach would work better against the Reds, the Cheetahs are backing their defence to hold them and then their attack to get the better of the Australian team.
“The Reds are a quality team. They are definitely one of the front runners and definitely one of the favourites to win the competition. They have some exciting backs but unlike other teams with dangerous backs who have weaknesses in the forwards, the Reds are a quality outfit.
“They’ve got a good scrum, a good lineout and good ball-carrying forwards. It will be tough to beat them, but we play in Bloem and we always give ourselves a chance to win over here. If you look at their games against the Force they struggled, so it will be very important for our defence to be rock solid and not to give them any go-forward.”
Still, as they saw last week – a week is a long time in Super Rugby, and the Cheetahs need this win if they are to keep in touch with the Bulls.