Players who excel at the Cheetahs are often deserving of greater recognition, writes Andre-Pierre Cronje in a letter to the editor.
What then is Cheetah Disease? Medical experts have yet to reach consensus but the disease is generally understood to affect rugby players plying their trade in Bloemfontein. The primary symptoms of players suffering from Cheetah disease are: invisibility to the South African rugby public; and, a severe allergy to Springbok selection.
Some of the best known and most talented rugby players have sadly fallen victim to the debilitating effects of Cheetah Disease. Sarel Pretorius, Robert and Sias Ebersohn, Johan Sadie – all succumbed to the disease. Despite their eminent abilities they were never selected to play for South Africa. Not the first victims of Cheetah Disease, and not the last.
There are some success stories of course: players like Juan Smith who are immune to Cheetah Disease. These fortunate individuals are few and far between though. More often than not players worried about contracting Cheetah Disease decide to change teams before the illness really sets in. The Sharks seem to be the preferred ‘safe zone’.
Willie Le Roux, Ox Nche, Frans Steyn, Ruan Pienaar and the Du Plessis brothers all opted for the Durban antidote to Cheetah Disease and all made full recoveries. International rugby careers followed. In recent times a second antidote, developed in Pretoria, has also gained prominence with Lood de Jager, Lappies Labuschagne, and Adriaan Strauss choosing that option.
There are currently a number of players suffering from Cheetah disease – Joseph Dweba, Junior Pokomela, Benhard Janse van Rensburg and Rabz Mazwane would all occupy more prominent positions in the Springbok discussion were it not for their affliction.
The way that the South African public rave about Aphelele Fassi they might have raved about Maxwane when he carved up the Pro14 in his debut season. Sadly, top scorer in the League has little impact when you’re suffering from Cheetah Disease. The excitement that fans feel seeing the electric Sikhumbuzo Notshe, they may have also felt seeing Pokomela stepping and outpacing wingers… were it not for Cheetah Disease of course.
Dweba, Janse van Rensburg and Maxwane have all decided to seek greener pastures and try to shake off the effects of the disease as so many players have done before them. It is another blow for the Cheetahs team that seems to have a new squad by the hour so quickly do players come and go.
If South African rugby is ever going to rid itself of Cheetah Disease it will take a concerted effort from the ‘men-in-charge’. The longer that selectors ignore the talent on display in Bloem, the deeper the malaise will get. If players feel that playing for the Cheetahs will preclude them from having international careers they will continue to leave en masse.
After the 2017-18 season the Cheetahs lost 17 players. The men in orange seem to be in a perpetual phase of rebuilding only to have the foundations ripped away from them at the end of each season. With rumours that the Cheetahs are set to miss out on the Pro16 expect another exodus of talent. The best rugby nursery in the country will likely be pillaged by the bigger South African unions and French sides once again.
A bit of vision from the Springbok coaches and a willingness to take a chance on the Cheetahs talent may go some way to halting the effects of Cheetah Disease.
– Andre-Pierre Cronje
Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images