'Pro14 quality' key for Cheetahs in Final
REACTION: The Free State Cheetahs will look to give long-standing coach Franco Smith the perfect parting gift – a Currie Cup title.
The Cheetahs scored six second-half tries to defeat the defending champion Sharks 51-30 in their semifinal showdown in Bloemfontein at the weekend and will host the Golden Lions, whose set-piece superiority set up a 34-19 victory over the Griquas in the other play-off match in Johannesburg.
Smith said this build-up to the grand finale will be tough, as it brings to an end his involvement with the Cheetahs coaching structures that started 14 years ago – which was interrupted during his stint with Treviso in Italy between 2007 and 2013.
The 47-year-old coach will head back to Italy after the World Cup, to take up an assistant coaching job with that country’s national team
After Saturday’s Final, he will hand over to Hawies Fourie, who will take charge when the Pro14 gets underway at the end of this month.
“It is a privilege and an honour to play in the Final,” Smith said.
He added that the Cheetahs’ demolition of the Springbok-laden Sharks team – which featured players like Andre Esterhuizen, Lwazi Mvovo, Curwin Bosch, Coenie Oosthuizen, Thomas du Toit and JP Pietersen – showed the Cheetahs have what it takes to make a good fist of their next European venture.
“They showed that, taking this team into the Pro14, they have the ability to roll teams over – if they stick to the plan and what we believe in,” Smith said.
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Springbok Ruan Pienaar will again be key, as he was in the semifinal, against the Lions.
Pienaar, who was part of three Springbok World Cup squads including the 2007 trophy winners, returned to South Africa recently after playing in Ireland and France for nine years.
Pienaar, who took over as goal kicker after Tian Schoeman missed two conversions, finished as the Cheetahs’ leading points scorer with 15.
“It was a tough match and we made it difficult for ourselves in the opening half by wasting several good try-scoring opportunities,” said the 35-year-old, who played 88 Tests for South Africa.
“We fought hard in the second half and I am proud to be part of this really special team.
“I was impressed by how calm they were at half-time even though we were nine points behind.
“Retaining possession was a key part of our second-half strategy and we achieved that goal.
“We were also much more clinical than in the first half.
“Now, we must prepare from Monday to face a really good Lions side in the final. Scoring 51 points were great but we have to keep our feet firmly on the ground.”