Cheetahs coach Franco Smith is expecting a forward-dominated battle in their Pro14 opener against Munster in Limerick on Saturday. DYLAN JACK reports.
The Cheetahs go into the campaign having lost a plethora of experienced players, including captain Francois Venter, No 8 Uzair Cassiem and fullback Clayton Blommetjies.
Smith says that with virtually a new team, expectations that the Cheetahs have gained experience from last season are going to have to be tempered.
‘We know what to expect, but preparation has been different because we have lost a lot of players that gained that experience last year,’ Smith told SARugbymag.co.za. ‘In the second half of the season, we made use of a certain amount of players and now two-thirds of them have left.
‘Unfortunately, I know a lot of supporters don’t want to hear this, but every few years this exodus hits us. So we have to be realistic. Either you can be disappointed or support us as we try and build this team into something formidable.
‘We will not use it as an excuse,’ Smith added. ‘We still know what to expect. Experience is still to be gained but we know what to expect.’
The men from Bloemfontein could not have picked a tougher opening assignment as they travel to Munster to face former Springbok assistant Johann van Graan’s team.
‘They have a tradition which changed a bit when Rob Penny was the coach and tried to play a bit more expansively,’ Smith said about their opponents. ‘The tradition and DNA of Munster is forward-driven and pressure-driven.
‘I coached with Johann at the Springboks for 18 months. We know each other well. I know his mindset, which is very similar to Test match rugby. I don’t think they will deviate from that.
‘It will be important for us to focus on our strengths and not walk into the trap of only trying to nullify their strengths.’
Many of the Cheetahs have been involved in the team’s disappointing start to the Currie Cup season, where they have lost their opening fixtures to the Blue Bulls and Western Province.
Despite this, Smith says he is not worried as he expects the players to step up this weekend.
‘All the teams playing in the Currie Cup are coming toward the end of their seasons. They are sharper, having come out of Super Rugby, and are coming into the Currie Cup with a completely different mindset to us.’