Cheetahs banking on talisman's speedy return
REACTION: The Cheetahs are banking on a more hearty and infrangible run when the defending Currie Cup champions return from this week’s bye.
South Africa’s revamped domestic competition switches from the Super Rugby Unlocked brand to the Currie Cup – with points carried over from the first half of the season.
At the conclusion of the Unlocked half of the season the Blue Bulls sit pretty at the top of the standings (with 23 points), followed by the Western Province (Stormers, 19), Sharks (19), Cheetahs (17), Lions (12), Pumas ((seven) and Griquas (three).
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Round One of the Currie Cup half has the Sharks at home to the Pumas (on Friday), Griquas hosting the Lions and the big North-South derby, Western Province against Bulls (at Newlands) on Saturday.
Given the fractured nature of the first half of their campaign – with the cancellation of their game against the Lions, followed by a bye, injuries to key players and the departure of several stars – the Cheetahs will use the bye week to get some extra training and preparations done.
Cheetahs coach Hawies Fourie admitted the return of some key players in the next few weeks will be timely fillips.
Top of this list is the return from injury of veteran Springbok and regular captain Ruan Pienaar, who sustained a torn medial cruciate ligament during the Cheetahs’ 19-17 win over the Bulls in mid-October.
“There are quite a few injured players that will come back in the next few weeks,” Fourie said.
Others returning from injury include Wilmar Arnoldi (cheekbone) and Reniel Hugo (knee).
“Ruan Pienaar might be back before the end of December,” the coach said, adding: “There are guys coming back that will strengthen the team.
“We are looking forward to that.”
Others still on the injury list include Aranos Coetzee (ankle), Duncan Saal (hamstring) and Craig Barry (knee).
The Cheetahs have lost some key players to cash-flush clubs in Europe.
Jasper Wiese and Luan de Bruin have joined the English Premiership club Leicester Tigers.
De Bruin is on a seven-month contract, before linking up with Edinburgh on a three-year deal.
The Cheetahs have signed Khutha Mchunu and Hencus van Wyk to replenish their front row stocks.
The 23-year-old Mchunu joins the Cheetahs on a one-year contract from the Sharks, where he enjoyed limited game time.
The 28-year-old Van Wyk – who has played for the Bulls, Lions, the Japan-based Blues and Sunwolves – has a short-term contract, which expires at the end of January 2021.
“We are in a transition period,” Fourie said.
“The guys that are absent now, know everything that we do and how we want to play – as well as all the calls.
“We will have a bit more stability going forward – in the second half of the competition.
“The past two to three weeks wasn’t easy, especially after that Lions game that was cancelled and then the a bye.
“We didn’t play well against the Stormers [a 13-30 loss, coming a week after a heartbreaking 13-19 loss to the Sharks].
“It was important for us to get back to our winning ways this [past] weekend and put up a proper performance,” he said of their 28-9 win over Griquas.
After this week’s bye the Cheetahs face the Bulls (Pretoria), Lions (Bloemfontein), Pumas (Nelspruit), Sharks (Bloemfontein), Western Province (Bloemfontein) and Griquas (Kimberley) – before the play-offs on January 16 (semifinals) and January 23 (Final).
“It was important for us to get five points [against Griquas].
“We are six points behind the Bulls and six games in which to make up the deficit.
“Our goal is the play-offs and we need to finish in the top four.
If we want to finish ahead of the Bulls [on the standings], we have to beat the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld. If we lose that game it will be a tall order.
“That [Loftus outing] is a crucial game.”