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Rugby | Pro14

Clayton Blommetjies with Makazole Mapimpi © Gallo Images

Cheetahs up against wiles of Rassie

The Cheetahs and Southern Kings will go into their second week of participation in the PRO14 under pressure to show that they have learned from the experience they gained from big defeats in the opening round.

Both South African teams had their moments during the first weekend of their foray into the European club competition.

The Cheetahs scored some good first half tries against Ulster in Belfast and showed that they will trouble opposing defensive systems if they win enough ball, while the Kings were more competitive than expected in the first half against the champions, the Scarlets from Llanelli, before falling apart in the second.

The consensus appeared to be that they would be an interesting addition to the competition, but in order for them to make it really interesting, they need to show signs that they could become competitive. Of course, the Kings have only been together for a matter of a few weeks after losing the bulk of their Super Rugby squad at the end of that competition, but the Cheetahs, who are currently the reigning South African domestic champions, need to be an advertisement for the strength of the South African game.

They are up against it this weekend in the form of last season’s beaten finalists in this competition, Munster, who are still coached by the appointed new South African director of rugby, Rassie Erasmus. The former Springbok flank, together with defence guru Jacques Nienaber, is continuing as coach of Munster until they can find a replacement.

Erasmus of course is well known to South Africans, and particularly to Cheetahs fans, who will remember him both as a stalwart player at the union as well as the man who coached the Cheetahs to a famous Currie Cup win in 2005 when that competition was still strong. Rory Duncan, current coach of the Cheetahs, was in fact coached by Erasmus.

Erasmus subsequently moved to Cape Town and was Stormers coach for a while before effectively becoming that union’s director of rugby, so the Cheetahs have experience of being up against him as a coach. And most of those memories won’t be good ones, for Erasmus tended to have the wood over them when he was based in the Cape.

You don’t have to be a rugby expert like Erasmus to know that what the Cheetahs need to sort out is their porous defence.

They showed signs of improvement in Super Rugby and their press defence worked well in a recent Currie Cup win over Western Province, but last week they were poor against Ulster. Erasmus would have noted that, and with Nienaber as the defence coach, the Cheetahs should also know that their own scoring opportunities could be kept to a minimum. It shapes up as a tough night out for the Cheetahs, for Munster have only lost once at home in the last year (to Scarlets) and they will have a couple of Ireland internationals back in action for them this week after they were rested for the opening win against Benneton (34-3).

The challenge the Kings face is that they are up against a team that has not shown good recent form and they should therefore be expected to be competitive in Galway. Last week Connacht were fancied to beat a weakened Glasgow Warriors team but played poor rugby in the first half, when they had a strong wind behind them on an inclement day, and were well beaten.

The loss added to a long sequence of defeats for Connacht at the end of last season, and their coach Kieran Keane has yet to taste victory with Connacht in a competitive match. That does bring a different type of pressure to the Kings in comparison to that faced by the Cheetahs in the sense that if they are not competitive against Connacht, then who are they going to be competitive against away from home in the short term?

The Kings promised after the Scarlets defeat to learn quickly and it has to be said that Deon Davids’ coaching staff, based on the sharp upward curve they embarked on in Super Rugby, are good at learning quickly.

The Kings players certainly appear to have embraced the experience of being in Ireland, and enjoyed arriving in Galway in the middle of a hurling competition on Sunday night. Senior player Schalk Ferreira reckons his teammates are hungry to learn more than just the Irish culture, however, and he has promised a better performance from the Kings this week.

“We haven’t had a lot of time to prepare, but the amount of time we did in the two weeks (before departure for the UK and Ireland), there was a hunger to learn quickly,” he said.

“It was a little bit too far too soon in Wales, and we had to get used to a different style from what we were used to in Super Rugby, but we have adapted well to it and will be ready on Saturday.”

South African team Guinness PRO14 fixtures for the weekend:

Munster v Cheetahs (Thormond Park, Saturday 6.15pm)

Connacht v Southern Kings (Sportsground, Galway, Saturday 8.35pm)


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