Cheetahs coach Rory Duncan says his side has got stronger as the Pro14 season has progressed.
The Bloemfontein-based franchise began their inaugural campaign with two heavy away defeats to Ulster (42-19) and Munster (51-18), but good home form saw them finish third in Conference A – with 12 wins and nine defeats – to qualify for the playoffs.
The Cheetahs will face the Scarlets, the defending champions, on Friday night (19:35 SA time) in the first semi-final qualifier. The winner will play the Glasgow Warriors in the semi-finals.
‘I believe the team has matured now and shown quite a lot of character,’ Duncan told the Pro14 website. ‘They’ve worked really hard at adjusting to the style of rugby that you need to play when you come over here and face different conditions to what we’re used to.
‘It was something new for the team but credit to the players in the way they accepted the challenge and worked really hard to be able to play a slightly different brand of rugby.
‘If you look at the first two games we played abroad, against Munster and Ulster, and see how far we’ve come since then.
‘At the back end of the first two games, we were staring down the barrel of nearly 100 points against us.
‘It would’ve been very easy to throw in the towel and accept the fact that this was another season that would pass us by, but the guys didn’t want to do that.
‘They wanted to fight and that’s exactly what they’ve done.’
Duncan said the Cheetahs were excited about their upcoming clash with the Scarlets, who they beat 28-21 in Bloemfontein earlier in the season.
‘I think the last time the Scarlets lost a home game in the Pro14 was about 2016 so it’s a fantastic challenge for our players.
‘With regards to the Scarlets and the way they’ve performed, they’re obviously a quality outfit and they’ve got some great players in their lineup.
‘We’ve obviously done our prep and our homework in terms of this game as we have with every other where we’ve faced quality players.’
Photo: Johan Pretorius/Gallo Images