Cheetahs coach Hawies Fourie has hailed his side’s victory over the Vodacom Bulls after the adversity the franchise faced over the past couple of weeks.
Despite having to cling on to a narrow two-point margin for a 19-17 win in the second round of Super Rugby Unlocked, Fourie was proud of his team’s achievement.
The Free State franchise has faced a difficult few weeks behind the scenes, starting with their disappointment over being kicked out of PRO Rugby.
There have also been several other disruptions, as former Free State Rugby Union vice-president Cedric Carson passed away last week, while the franchise also had to deal with the deaths of long-serving employees Tumi Morakile and Eldar Mofo in a vehicle accident following their win against the Pumas.
‘When you take into account all the negative things that happened to us over the past two to three weeks as well as the sad news we had to deal with, this was an unbelievable team effort,’ Fourie told the media post-match. I’m really proud of this effort. We knew that we could win this game and we consequently backed ourselves. It was never in doubt even, though it was quite close at the end. We kept our composure.’
During the match against the Bulls, the team was again disrupted as captain Ruan Pienaar had to be substituted after injuring his knee during the first 15 minutes.
‘Injuries are unfortunately part of the game. It was really bad to see that he and Gio Aplon had to be taken off on the medical golf cart,’ Fourie said. ‘We are thinking about them and hope that their injuries aren’t too serious. It is a big setback. But I must say the whole team reacted well and kept cool. Tian Meyer [who replaced Pienaar at scrumhalf] did a very good job for the following 65 minutes and Junior [Pokomela] took over the captaincy, making good decisions.’
One of the major elements of the game was how the Cheetahs improved in their defensive performance after conceding 31 points to the Pumas last weekend. The Cheetahs also stood up well to a Springbok-infused Bulls pack, with the likes of Arno Botha and Duane Vermeulen struggling to get into the game.
‘Our coaching staff is doing an unbelievable job. Corniel van Zyl is one of the best forwards coaches. Our forwards are always 100% prepared. Charl Strydom is our defence coach and has worked hard to change the mindset in our team. In the past, we have always focused a lot on our attack and not so much on the defence. It took time to get the players to buy into it, but when you look at last week’s first 50 minutes and the full 80 in this game, you can see the fruits of our hard work on defence.’
Pokomela, who will replace Pienaar as captain in the upcoming matches, said the team are delighted to be able to prove themselves against their full-strength South African rivals.
‘For the past few seasons, we never got to play South African derbies against the best teams in the country,’ Pokomela said. ‘We always want to measure ourselves against the best. Having the Springboks present is great. We want to prove a point as players to these guys and show that we can compete. It’s a blessing to play against them.’
Photo: Frikkie Kapp/Gallo Images