VIDEO: Cheetahs ready to dive in at the 'deep end' in Europe
The Cheetahs are ready to ‘dive in’ at the deep end of the European game, after more than two years of international isolation.
The Bloemfontein-based team headed to France on Monday, where they will make their Challenge Cup debut against Section Paloise (also known as Pau) in a Pool B match at Stade du Hameau on Saturday.
Only a handful of Cheetahs players have substantial European experience.
Springboks Ruan Pienaar (140 games for Ulster, along with 30-odd for Montpellier) and François Steyn (Montpellier, 90, & Racing Metro, 60) have extensive European Cup experience.
Other players with European experience include Aranos Coetzee, who played 70-odd games for Racing Métro and Brive in France, Schalk Ferreira (30-odd games with Toulouse) and Robert Ebersohn (more than 170 games between Montpellier, Castres and Béziers).
They will be able to give their teammates some handy hints.
Cheetahs’ captain Victor Sekekete said they are “very excited” to finally dine at the top table again.
“The players are very excited about it and as the coach said, we have been waiting for this opportunity for two years,” the lock forward told @rugby365com.
“The excitement has been and still is in the camp.
“We are ready for it.”
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The Cheetahs will be arriving in France late on Tuesday afternoon and they will have just a couple of training sessions in order to acclimate.
With the home team having won three of their last four outings in the Top 14 – beating teams like Stade Rochelais, Bordeaux Bègles and Brive – the Cheetahs may be a touch underdone in comparison.
The Bloemfontein team’s build-up to their debut in the Challenge Cup has included the Challenge Series in Bloemfontein and a warm-up match against the Sharks.
Cheetahs coach Hawies Fourie said he watched a number of their games and they have steadily improved – especially during the November window.
Conditions will also ‘conspire’ against the visitors – with a high of just 7°C, dipping to -1°C by kick-off.
The Cheetahs coach described Pau as a “balanced” team.
In the backline, they have some dangerous imports to call on – including fullback Jack Maddocks (with seven Wallaby caps), along with two Pacific centres Tumua Manu (Samoa) and Jale Vatubua (Fiji).
While it will be a massive challenge, the Cheetahs have been waiting for two years to return to the international stage and don’t want to waste this opportunity.
“We are really looking forward to playing in this competition and want to make the best of this opportunity,” Fourie told @rugby365com.
Arriving in Paul by late afternoon on Tuesday, the Cheetahs will only have two training sessions in France.
Following a ‘recovery day’ on Wednesday, they will have one full training session on Thursday and the captain’s run on Friday.