Cheetahs could still make the play-offs
REACTION: Too many wasted opportunities and errors that cost them potential momentum was the by now all too familiar complaint that South African coaches shared after a disappointing round for the local teams in Pro14.
The Cheetahs used the strong gale-force wind at their backs to good effect in Newport on Saturday to open up a 10-point lead at the break but coach Hawies Fourie agreed that they needed to be further ahead to challenge for the win that was so necessary for them in their challenge for a place in the play-offs.
The Dragons came back to win 13-10.
That means the Cheetahs did pick up a bonus point and with the Glasgow Warriors being outplayed 55-19 by Leinster last Friday, the gap between the Cheetahs and the play-off bracket is now just two points. With the Cheetahs heading home to play six games in Bloemfontein they are still well in the hunt.
However, Fourie lamented the mistakes that cost his team the chance of returning to South Africa in third place, which would put them in the play-off zone, in their conference.
Southern Kings coach Robbi Kempson, who is desperate for a win just to generate some faith among the team’s supporters, was left frustrated with his team’s inability to properly capitalise on the numerical advantage they had after Connacht’s replacement backline player Peter Robb was sent off in the 15th minute of Sunday’s match in Port Elizabeth.
The Kings did fight back in a 10 minute period when the visitors were down to 13 men to turn a 14-0 deficit into 14-all, but Connacht drew away again to win 29-19.
“We had a plan that had been put in place during the week and in my opinion we have the best attack coach in world rugby in Swys de Bruin assisting us but then we butcher four scoring opportunities in the first half and you can’t do that and expect to win,” said Kempson.
“Yes, they had a red card and all of that, but if you butcher four opportunities that is potentially 28 points. Hats off though to Connacht. They showed excellent game management in the second half and slowed the game down to less than a walk. I am not sure how many times JC [skipper JC Astle] was told by me to speak to the referee and get him to speed the game up.”
There was more to it than just the Connacht team slowing the game down, they also showed great game management in the way they kept the Kings pinned in the right corner of their side of the field for long periods in the second half, which was a tribute to the clever thinking and skill of their flyhalf Jack Carty.
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“Their game management from that aspect was excellent, and as we saw when we played Connacht away from home they kept us pinned in the right corner and we weren’t able to react positively to that,” said Kempson.
“The main message sent out once Connacht had lost a player to a red card was to keep the ball at all costs. Rather than loosening the game up we wanted to tighten it to strictly step into line with the game plan we had in place for this particular game. We didn’t do that.”
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The Cheetahs’ game against the Dragons started on a negative note for them when they had to rule skipper Ruan Pienaar out shortly before the kick-off.
“Ruan had a pain his lower back. We tried to get him right by giving him anti-inflammatories and pills but it didn’t help. There was still a chance he would play, right up to the warm-up, but it was clear there that he wasn’t right so we pulled him out before kick-off,” explained Fourie.
“We didn’t get enough points on the board in the first half when the wind behind us was unbelievably strong. To just be 10 points ahead wasn’t good enough and we needed to take our chances better. Unfortunately, some passes were dropped and penalties given away and it cost us. It was very difficult playing against that wind in the second half.
“In that period we gave away too much possession at the breakdowns and a few lineouts were also lost. That cost us. It was a big disappointment but it is what it is and we are now just going to have to make the most of having six games at home.”
There is a three-week break now before both the Cheetahs and the Southern Kings resume their campaigns with home matches. They both have eight games to look forward to before the regular season ends.