How the Cheetahs plan to make a 'statement' to SA Rugby
SUPER RUGBY UNLOCKED SPOTLIGHT: The Cheetahs know nothing they say or do will change the minds of South African Rugby bosses.
Their controversial axing from the Pro14 (or Pro16 as it will become) is a done deal.
However, a great ‘consolation prize’ will be if they can knock over some of the ‘big four’ teams and go on to win the Currie Cup.
Both coach Hawies Fourie and captain Ruan Pienaar said they are not going to get sidetracked by the hype surrounding the truculent sidelining of the Bloemfontein-based franchise.
SA Rugby revealed last month that the four Super Rugby franchises – the Bulls, Lions, Sharks and Stormers – are set to join the revamped Pro14 competition.
That means that the Cheetahs will be axed from the European competition – a revamped Pro16.
Despite the obvious feelings of ‘injustice’, Fourie said it won’t serve them any purpose if they focus on the negative aspects.
“For us, it is about winning the Currie Cup,” the Cheetahs coach told a virtual media briefing this week, when asked about their overall goals.
“We have a game to play in,” he said of their Round One, Super Rugby Unlocked encounter, adding: “We must focus on the Pumas [in Bloemfontein on Saturday].
“We don’t need to prove anybody wrong, we want to be successful as a team.
“The decision [to axe the Cheetahs] has been made.
“Whether we win the Currie Cup or finish last, it won’t change the situation.
“I told the players that we have a competition to play in and we must stand strong as a group.
“It would be nice to knock down a few of the bigger teams.”
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Skipper Ruan Pienaar echoed similar sentiments.
“You have two choices,” Pienaar said, adding: “You either feel sorry for yourself or get over it and move on.
“Yes, it is tough and it is on our minds, but we haven’t played rugby for a long time.
“You realise how much you miss it and how much you miss being part of a team.
“For us, it is about focusing on putting out good performances.
“There is still a lot to play for and we still have an opportunity to do what we love.”
Winning the newly-constituted Super Rugby Unlocked competition would be great, but for the Cheetahs the primary aim is the Currie Cup.
“We set ourselves a goal to win the Currie Cup,” Fourie said.
“It starts on Saturday. It [the Currie Cup campaign] does not start in December [after the completion of Super Rugby unlocked].
“It is important to do well. The Currie Cup is part of our DNA.
“Our supporters really value the Currie Cup and it is an important competition for us to do well in.”
He added that the players are relishing the opportunity to face Super Rugby strength opposition.
“That was one of the negatives for me in Pro Rugby [Pro14], we didn’t play the South African teams at full strength.
“Our players have the opportunity now to face the SA teams at full strength and measure ourselves against that.”