Coach Hawies Fourie admits the Cheetahs are disappointed but have made peace with the fact they will not be taking part in the new Rainbow Cup in 2021.
SA Rugby recently confirmed that the Vodacom Bulls, Lions, Sharks and Stormers will join 12 clubs from Ireland, Wales, Scotland and Italy in the new competition, which will get underway on 17 April and conclude on 19 June.
Each South African team will make a three-match tour to Europe in the Rainbow Cup, while all 12 PRO14 clubs will play in South Africa.
As expected, his has come at the expense of the Cheetahs, who have been involved in the PRO14 since being kicked out of Super Rugby in 2017.
‘It is bad and it has been bad for a long time,’ Fourie said. ‘We have learnt to live with it, but I think in all of our hearts we would have wanted to be a part of that competition. But it’s not destined for us and we have made peace with the matter and have moved on.’
With the current uncertainty surrounding the union’s future, a host of senior players have decided to leave for other South African teams or take up opportunities overseas.
This includes senior locks Walt Steenkamp, Sintu Manjezi and JP du Preez, as well as hooker Reinach Venter and prop Luan de Bruin, among others.
‘It has been a heavy blow to our union and we have lost many players because of the decision to exclude the Cheetahs,’ Fourie admitted. ‘But we will build again from where we are now. ‘
Despite the challenges facing the union, the Cheetahs have still made a late bid for a place in the Currie Cup playoffs, with their latest bonus-point win over the Sharks lifting them to within five points of second place.
In his year-end message, Cheetahs chairman Rayno Opperman praised the team’s fighting sprit to overcome the hurdles that have been placed in their way this year.
‘As if the pandemic was not enough, SA Rugby deprived the Cheetahs of their deserved place in PRO16. This resulted in a number of top players seeking greener pastures. In addition, injuries plagued the team.
‘It was to be expected that uncertainty about our future and the pandemic would detrimentally affect our mood and morale. Fortunately, we realised this, put our shoulder to the wheel and focused on our profession and the sport we love,’ Opperman wrote.
‘The past weeks have shown the benefit of this positive attitude. This is so typical of the Free State, its people, rugby, players and supporters. Over the past 125 years, we have seen valleys and peaks. We should never unlearn or forget this fight-back ability.
‘We now face Saturday’s crucial match against Western Province. The Cheetahs simply have to win this game as well as the one against Griquas on 9 January in Kimberley to reach the Currie Cup semifinals. The weather forecast is for rainy weather. This will give the strong WP forwards an advantage, but we believe the Cheetahs can rise to the challenge!
‘We start 2021 with plans for a new international and national competition, the Currie Cup, and the British & Irish Lions tour. We choose to positively seek opportunities, to work hard and to focus on our job, love and pride for Cheetahs rugby.’
Photo: Johan Pretorius/Gallo Images