International warm-up for Cheetahs ahead of Euro return
NEWS: The Cheetahs will have international opposition in the build-up to their return to European competition.
The Challenge Series – which last year featured club teams from Spain and Georgia – will this year include Italy A, Emerging Ireland and the United State A.
Cheetahs coach Hawies Fourie said the international opposition is ideal preparation for their debut in the European Challenge Cup – when they will face French outfit Pau and Welsh region Scarlets.
Their return to Europe follows their axing from the Pro14 (now United Rugby Championship) in 2020.
“These are our only games ahead of our entry into the Challenge Cup, so it is valuable game time,” Fourie said.
“Our opposition has the French Top 14 and URC ahead of the Challenge Cup, so these games are our preparation,” the Cheetahs coach added.
It will be the Cheetahs’ first taste of ‘international opposition’ since 2019 – before COVID put an end to cross-border travel and then they were kicked out.
“The opposition will be a lot stronger than last year,” he said of the 2021 Challenge Series in Bloemfontein.
“It will be really good preparation for us going t forward.”
Fourie said their recruitment for the season has almost been completed and he is happy with the pre-season build-up.
Cheetahs captain Ruan Pienaar, ahead of what is most likely his final season of playing, said it has been a “tough” pre-season.
“It is probably close to the end [of my career], so I am looking forward to getting back on the field and playing.”
The Challenge Series, from September 30 to October 21 in Bloemfontein, will also be a ‘dash for cash’ – with ZAR1-million up for grabs.
The Cheetahs, who were knocked out in the semifinal stage of the Currie Cup, will look to set the record straight against their Central Unions neighbours, Griquas.
The Cheetahs suffered a humbling 18-46 to Griquas in their Round 12 Currie Cup in Kimberley back in May.
Italy A and Emerging Ireland will consist of some of the best young players in those countries, while the United States A team will comprise players from the Major League Rugby teams – albeit without their European players.
The Challenge Series will form part of the US Eagles’ preparation for their World Cup qualifier in November in Dubai, – where they take on Hong Kong, Kenya and Portugal for a place in the 2023 World Cup tournament in France.
Leading up to the Challenge Series, the international teams will play in a series of friendly matches in South Africa.
Italy A will play against Griquas and the Currie Cup champion Pumas.
Emerging Ireland will face Griquas and the Pumas, while the US A team, will face the Pumas.
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“It is an amazing opportunity to bring the US A side to compete in the Challenge Series,” said Gary Gold, the US Eagles head coach and former Springbok assistant coach.
“This is a wonderful opportunity to bring players who have played MLR rugby in the US for the first half of the year, and this competition offers them the opportunity to get to play against some of the best provincial teams in SA.
“This experience will be unique to quite a few of the players who have not spent much time playing rugby outside of the US, let alone be able to play in a country where rugby is so popular.
“Some of these players will also join the US National team in November in Dubai, so the experience will stand them in an excellent position of preparation.”
Ireland and Italy are similarly looking to improve the depth of their international player base.
“We are grateful to the Cheetahs for creating this opportunity for our Emerging Ireland squad, which will allow us to expose players of national interest not only to a touring environment but also to a high standard of South African opposition,” David Nucifora, the Irish Rugby Football Union Performance Director said.
“This tournament will provide a significant development opportunity as we look to grow the depth of our national panel ahead of the World Cup and into the future.”
Italy ‘A’ coach Alessandro Troncon said their aim is to develop international experience for the country’s URC franchises and Italian TOP10 domestic teams.
“Competing in the Challenge Series, facing some of the most exciting and competitive Currie Cup sides, is fully consistent with our team goals and more in general with our high-level development pathway.
“We will be facing three challenging matches, offering our young guns a chance for testing themselves both physically and technically”.
Challenge Series fixtures:
Friday, September 30:
Griquas v Emerging Ireland (13.45)
Cheetahs v Italy A (16.15)
Wednesday, October 5:
Pumas v Emerging Ireland (17.00)
Griquas v Italy A (19.00)
Sunday, October 9:
Pumas v Italy A (11.00)
Cheetahs v Emerging Ireland (13.00)
Friday, October 14:
Cheetahs v US A (18.00)
Friday, October 21:
Pumas v US A (13.45)
Cheetahs v Griquas (16.15)