Super Rugby threatened Cheetahs looking to make mental adjustment
The pressure of not knowing about their future in Super Rugby is telling on the Cheetahs’ performances‚ although coach Franco Smith is clear that it’s not an excuse.
The Cheetahs have won only two of seven matches‚ despite leading five games going in to the last 10 minutes this season.
It doesn’t get easier for the team as they take on the Bulls at Loftus on Saturday‚ which is followed by a string of four matches against New Zealand teams.
But Smith remains positive‚ despite being pulled in several directions.
When he’s not coaching his team‚ he’s assisting at boardroom level to make a case for the Cheetahs’ survival in Super Rugby. And when he’s not doing that‚ he is doing Springbok prep work in his role of Bok attack coach.
“We are losing because of lapsing mentally‚” Smith said. “They are small margins so we need our mindset to change.
“Unfortunately the off-field issues (the threat of being axed in Super Rugby’s restructure) are on the players’ minds. They feel that they are playing for the jobs of everyone associated with the franchise from the financial manager to the people that clean the stadium.
“They feel the pressure because they have an ‘I care’ attitude‚ which is now a burden. In games‚ when the pressure starts to come on‚ they tend to retreat into their shells and not try anything.
“It’s been evident in a few games. Against the Sharks we played brilliantly to lead 23-15 but once we got the lead the players started hoping the game would go away and they would get the win.
“It’s that mindset we’re struggling with so I have been working with our mental coach to address these issues.
“We need the players to take the pressure off themselves. Unfortunately we’re not only dealing with the pressure of this season‚ but also of 10 years of the Cheetahs under-performing.
“Having said that‚ the way we have played has been exceptional at times. We are making the most dominant tackles‚ and our tackle percentage is among the best. We make too many tackles though and we have suffered from turnover ball.
“But our confidence is still high and we are still a very dangerous side because we generate quick ball‚ we make the most linebreaks and the most offloads out of any of the SA teams. That gives us confidence.”
The Bulls present a tough challenge this weekend‚ but are one of the two teams the Cheetahs have beaten this season – the other was the Sunwolves.
After a run of three successive losses the Bulls stemmed the flow with a 26-13 win over the Jaguares at Loftus last weekend. But they lost flyhalf Handre Pollard to a serious ankle injury on Thursday‚ which will weaken their squad for a match both teams desperately need to win.
“I felt such confidence at training this week because when the players reflected on that opening 25 minutes against the Chiefs last week (the Cheetahs led 24-0 before losing 41-27) they understood that they can match the best New Zealand teams‚” Smith said.
“We are heading into a tough stretch of the tournament‚ but I believe we are an exciting side. We won’t sit on our haunches anymore‚ and we won’t be afraid to make mistakes.”
- TMG Digital/TMG Sport