MARIETTE ADAMS delves into the two crucial facets of the game that hampered the Cheetahs’ PRO14 campaign.
With sport in general – and rugby in particular – in limbo as a direct result of the global coronavirus pandemic, SA Rugby magazine takes a closer look at the Cheetahs’ performance up to this point of the season.
The Cheetahs enjoyed a remarkable start as they went on a three-game winning streak with victories over the Glasgow Warriors, Ulster and Munster. However, their campaign derailed in the weeks that followed and now, 13 rounds into the season, they’ve chalked up seven defeats and just six wins. That statistic reads even grimmer when taking into account that two of those victories had come against the lowly Kings.
One could argue that this team lost its mojo during the transition period when Hawies Fourie took over as head coach from Franco Smith. But the Cheetahs’ problems are more deeply rooted than that.
As things stand at the moment, the Cheetahs are fourth in the Conference A standings, one spot off a place in the playoffs.
The Cheetahs boast one of the best attacks in this 14-team competition. They are ranked fourth overall for attacking play thanks to being in the top five in all of the points scored (fifth), tries scored (third), offloads (fourth), metres gained (fourth), defenders beaten (fifth) and clean breaks (fifth) categories.
Defence and discipline, or more accurately a lack thereof, are the key areas that have hamstrung the Cheetahs.
European teams are inclined to play tactically and more conservatively, as opposed to the more expansive, all-out-attacking brand the Cheetahs love to employ. And yet, after three-and-a-half seasons in the PRO14, it boggles the mind how the Cheetahs have still not altered their approach despite having little to no success with their preferred style of play.
For all the ‘entertainment’ they produce on the field, the Cheetahs’ defensive frailties and ill-discipline have dictated how their campaign has played out.
With a missed tackle count of 295 (rank second) and an unmatched 190 turnovers conceded (rank first), the Cheetahs are the third-worst defensive team in the competition.
Discipline-wise, they are even worse off. The Cheetahs have conceded more penalties (137) than any other team in the tournament and that includes 24 at the set pieces (20 in the scrums and four at lineouts). They’ve also conceded 10 yellow and two red cards (and several player suspensions), to claim the unwanted marker as the most ill-disciplined side in the competition.
It’s no exaggeration that drastic improvements are needed to enable to the Cheetahs to consistently compete for championship honours with the PRO14’s high flyers Leinster, Glasgow Warriors, Munster, Edinburgh, Ulster and Scarlets.
And until coach Fourie makes those changes, the Cheetahs are set to continue as also-rans, much like the Kings.
Photo: PRO14 Rugby