'Positive signs' of a Cheetahs return to Europe
INTERVIEW: The Cheetahs are just weeks away from making an announcement about their future.
Having been idle for the past two months – since beating the Eastern Province Elephants 71-12 in a Preparation Series match on March 28 – the Bloemfontein franchise will finally see some action this week.
The Cheetahs will face an Invitation XV in Bloemfontein on Saturday.
It is part of their preparation for the Currie Cup competition, scheduled to start in June.
However, discussions are at an advanced stage for their return to Europe – having been eliminated from the Pro14 tournament and replaced by the Bulls, Lions, Sharks and Stormers in dramatic fashion.
Harold Verster, Managing Director of the Cheetahs, revealed this week they are working through the national body, South African Rugby, to map out their future.
He said the COVID-19 pandemic dealt them a body blow – robbing them of six potential home games in the Pro14 last year.
Then they got thrown out of all European-based competitions and continued to warm their couches at home, as the proposed Franchise Cup (South Africa) was also canned – while the four other franchises played in the South African leg of the Rainbow Cup.
“We have this game and another game or two ahead of the Currie Cup competition [in June],” Verster told @rugby365com this week – after the announcement of Saturday’s ‘invitation’ fixture in Bloemfontein.
He added that negotiations are ongoing – through SA Rugby – at the highest level to look at the way forward for the Cheetahs.
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“It looks very positive,” he said of entering additional competitions.
The Bloemfontein-based franchise was previously exploring options to join competitive leagues in Russia or the United States.
Joining the US’s Major League Rugby competition comes with logistic and financial challenges which could derail those plans.
However, a move to Russia is certainly more intriguing, given that the Free State team could potentially compete in the European Shield and/or European Challenge Cup if that comes to fruition.
Verster said SA Rugby CEO Jurie Roux is playing a very influential role in assisting them to find alternative competitions.
“To be able to play at a higher [international] level is very important and the Currie Cup is our bread and butter,” he said.
“We are working on alternative options [for competitions],” the Cheetahs boss added.
Asked about the proposed alternative European competitions – outside of the formal Champions Cup and Challenge Cup competitions – Verster said those are part of the ‘behind the scenes’ discussions.
“This [discussions] are still ongoing,” he said, adding: “We are very hopeful and positive.
“It is a decision at the highest level of European rugby that still has to be made.”
He suggested an announcement is possible within a matter of weeks.
“There are some positive signs on the horizon and hopefully we will get a break this time and we can make an announcement soon.”