Cheetahs coach Franco Smith says their four-week break in December came at the right time ahead of Sunday’s clash against Zebre in Parma. DYLAN JACK reports.
The South African Pro14 team has not played since the first weekend of December, when the Cheetahs lost 21-17 to Connacht in Bloemfontein.
Due to the European Champions Cup, the other Pro14 sides have played two more games than the Cheetahs, who remain second from bottom in Conference A.
However, Smith explained that his charges have benefited from having time off after an intense first half of the season, where they had to divide their resources with the Currie Cup.
‘It doesn’t come naturally for South Africans, and is not part of our culture to play rugby over the festive season,’ Smith told SARugbymag.co.za. ‘We equipped the guys with a lot of video homework and physical work that they had to do, as well as hand-eye coordination drills. So we worked out physical and mental protocols that we tried to follow.
‘But the most important part of this was also rest. A very important part of the game is to refresh. I think the overseas teams that played over this period are obviously more used to it. But we reaped the benefit of being with our families. We tried to balance it and there was always a strategy and a plan.
‘We got back and the guys looked really fresh. It is good because there is a long season ahead and we came out of a long period with a much shorter break than most teams in the middle of the year.’
There was good news for the Cheetahs on the injury front, as centre Dries Swanepoel, who has been struggling with a shoulder injury and tighthead prop Luan de Bruin both reported for training this week and could play against Zebre on Sunday.
‘Dries has recovered completely,’ Smith said. ‘He took full contact this week, and Luan has also recovered this week. [Loose forward] Jasper Wiese is nearly there. So there are a couple of guys coming back. It looks like we have a lot of good selection problems for this weekend.’
Jamba Ulengo, who was training with the Cheetahs after being released from the Bulls, has undergone an operation on a neck injury, but still stands a chance to earn a contract with the Free State side.
Photo: Johan Pretorius/Gallo Images