They were sensational from start to finish in the Currie Cup and fully deserved winning the title in Bloemfontein on Saturday. Sure, the Currie Cup isn’t as strong as it once was, but to go 10 games unbeaten, and dominate all-comers in the way Franco Smith’s team did, deserves a round of applause.
The Lions of Johan Ackermann went 12 games unbeaten last season on their way to the title and the Cheetahs’ performance this year is just as impressive.
The executive at the Cheetahs took a bit of a bold step last year when, after Smith had led the Shimlas to their first Varsity Cup title, they decided it was time to rope him in in place of Naka Drotske. It was something of a gamble as Varsity Cup rugby is certainly not Currie Cup rugby or Super Rugby, yet they believed in the former Springbok flyhalf and centre’s pedigree and felt he could turn the Cheetahs around.
It didn’t look too good after Super Rugby this season, the Cheetahs managing only four wins in 15 outings, but in the Currie Cup they set the trend with their exciting brand of rugby and never looked like being beaten. When Smith was appointed, he promised to make the Cheetahs everyone’s favourite team again, he promised to get them to play an exciting style of running rugby and he promised to get them winning ... he’s delivered on all fronts.
And how wonderful was it to see the Free State fans show their appreciation in the manner they did by packing out Toyota Park during the final. It was a sight to behold.
Smith and his management team have brought success to the Cheetahs, possibly a little earlier than expected, but the trick now is to transfer that to Super Rugby next season, and that is going to be an altogether different challenge.
Then again, the players who Smith has backed, many of them fresh out of the Varsity Cup, will be a year older and more mature and experienced. Why shouldn’t they pull off a good few surprises, just as the Lions did last year already before going on to play in the final this year?
The major challenge for the Cheetahs in the next few months will be to build their depth - just look what happened to the Lions when they were minus their first choice men - and then hang on to the players who brought them the success over the weekend. You can be sure a good number of their stars, like Sergeal Petersen, Francois Venter, Nico Lee, Niel Marais, Niell Jordaan, Reniel Hugo and Ox Nche will be on the shopping lists of the richer unions north and south of Bloemfontein.
And, as a parting shot this week, no-one must say we don’t have the talent in this country to match and beat the All Blacks. What we’ve seen from the Lions in Super Rugby and the Cheetahs in the Currie Cup, we’ve got just as exciting players as New Zealand do, probably more than they have; it really is just a matter of getting them to gel and understand each other at national level. But the talent is there, of that there can be no doubt.
Original source: Cheetahs prove SA has the talent