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Ryan Vrede

Death by dazzle


Tom Marshall breaks the Cheetahs' defence Tom Marshall breaks the Cheetahs' defence

It's time we held the Cheetahs to a higher standard and end our poisonous love affair with them, writes RYAN VREDE.

The Cheetahs have won one match in seven, which is exactly the same record as the Stormers, who are in crisis and being hammered by most of their supporters and the Cape media. The primary difference between the sides is that the Cheetahs are able to thrill crowds on attack while the Stormers send them into slumber. The Cheetahs, however, have seemingly forgotten how to defend, which is at the root of their struggle.   

In 16 games last season they conceded 32 tries. This year in seven games they've conceded 29, six of those coming against the Chiefs in Bloemfontein on Saturday. 

They drew with the defending champions having led 34-10 half-time. Oom Jannie in Bethlehem would have been at least five brandies and coke deep in celebration in front of his television, while most in the crowd would have been making plans to celebrate a famous Cheetahs win over a braai once home. They had every right to do so. No side should ever surrender a lead like that at home. 

Then the ghost of Cheetahs past possessed the hosts. Their defence, which had blunted the usually dynamic Chiefs, became more questionable than Jacob Zuma's defence of his Nkandla spending. They missed 19 tackles in the match, 13 of those in the second half. Tellingly, they also conceded seven turnovers to the kings of counter-attack. It was a diabolical performance. 

Yet in the talk around the office this week they will garner praise for their expansive attack. Few critical words will be directed at them or their coaching staff. Certainly they won't have to negotiate any of the vitriol the Stormers will and have already experienced.

Why is this? I reckon the Cheetahs is the mistress of most South African fans, the one you don't love but are enthralled by because they do things your wife (read: the team you whole-heatedly support) won't. Watching them is escapism for those people, with the result secondary to their entertainment value. 

I thought they were done being a sideshow. Last season their game featured a balance it never had previously. I thought that was sustainable. Their defensive record compared very favourably with the elite teams – indeed the Chiefs had shipped six more tries than they did in the tournament's league phase. 

However, they've become a shadow of the formidable side they were in 2013. I can't accept injuries and player departures are mitigating factors for this. The Stormers are an example of a mediocre side who've been shorn of key players in the last two seasons but are still highly efficient defensively because their structures in this facet of play are good and their players have the right attitude towards it. For them defence is seen as a means to a victory (notwithstanding their inability to produce anything approaching potentcy on attack), not an incidental part of a victory, which it appears the Cheetahs view it as. 

Naka Drotské has benefited from a relatively smooth ride at the Cheetahs. The media are less severe on him because he is an easy guy to like. Furthermore he obviously has a silver tongue in the boardroom during his performance reviews for the Cheetahs' suits to keep him in their employ. Either that or they're happy being average. 

That this Cheetahs side is betraying their potential is clear. You only have to reflect on their performances in 2013 for support of this assertion. I would understand if they were just outside of the top six, given the lack of depth in their squad to cover injuries. But to be joint bottom is unacceptable.

The Cheetahs have regressed dramatically in less than a year and we've all cheered them on on that descent. Let's stop and demand that they sacrifice some style for substance. 

Photo: Charlie Lombard/Getty Images

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