Fri Oct 28 00:36:38 SAST 2016

Code blue for Cheetahs

LIAM DEL CARME | 19 October, 2016 07:50
FREE-FLOWING: The Free State Cheetahs are hoping their uninhibited brand of rugby will bring victory in the Currie Cup final against the Blue Bulls on Saturday. Here Meyer Bosman scores the winning try in the 2005 final attended by Arno Botha
Image by: The Times

Although there is cause to mark the occasion with a bang, the Cheetahs reaching the Currie Cup final 40 years after they won the coveted trophy the first time has been met with muted response in Bloemfontein.

The Cheetahs clash with the Blue Bulls in Saturday's final, but perhaps befitting his title, defence coach Charl Strydom explained the current crop have to be on guard this week.

"Our focus has to be on winning the final," he said.

What can be celebrated, however, is the uninhibited playing style the current team inherited from the pioneers of 1976.

One of rugby's truisms - that you don't have to make tackles while you have possession - has resonated with the Cheetahs this season.

"If you look at the way we played in the semis it was the same way the Lions played in Super rugby," said Strydom.

"They were happy to keep the ball in hand. In Super rugby, we averaged 200 tackles a game. It's about retaining possession and making those passes stick. If you don't have confidence you are not going to make those offloads.

"As far as our defence is concerned, we have not changed much this year.

"Our line speed is a lot better but that still isn't something that comes to the guys naturally."

The manner in which the Cheetahs dismantled the Golden Lions in the semifinals came as a surprise, although it is worth noting that they've been playing together for 18 months, while the Lions suffered significant defections.

"That's absolutely so. This is our second season together," concurred Strydom.

"That's why we have been able to play with confidence."

The Cheetahs are not going to abandon the enterprising brand of rugby that got them to the final.

Strydom believes the Blue Bulls will bring a similar approach, although the visitors have the luxury, or potential curse, of falling back to a more tactical game.

"In their semi the Bulls made 90 tackles compared with Western Province's 223," said Strydom.

"The Bulls also kept the ball well, but they just couldn't make the final pass stick. But the Bulls looked good."

Chumani Bambani reports the Blue Bulls have not won the Currie Cup since 2009 and hooker Bandise Maku is the last remaining member of the side that won the title seven years ago.

Not only is Maku the only Bulls player to have played in a final for the Bulls, but he is the only player in the squad to have ever played in a Currie Cup final before.

But, despite the lack of finals experience in the Pretoria side, they have experienced hands in captain Arno Botha and wing Bjorn Basson.

Botha has, however, watched a final from the stands, the 2005 defeat to the Cheetahs.

"I was painted blue, sitting on the main stand. We lost that game against the Cheetahs. I'll take that memory with me to Bloemfontein this weekend."


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