Cheetahs caught with defences down
Three months after losing defence coach Michael Horak, and centre Robert Ebersohn in the off-season, the Cheetahs are paying the price. They leaked 60 points against the Hurricanes last week.
Though they made it to the play-offs for the first time last year, the team will be lucky, on current form, to avoid the wooden spoon in this year's tournament after four losses in five outings.
Losing Horak has been a blow. He has been working with Varsity Cup side Shimlas and will take up a five-year contract with the EP Kings later this month.
And key defensive kingpin Ebersohn is now playing for Montpellier in France.
Last year, the Cheetahs allied their traditional expansive style with steely defence marshalled by Ebersohn's excellent ability to read the opposition and communicate to his teammates how to snuff out danger.
Ebersohn's ability to win ball on the ground is another key aspect missing from the Cheetahs game in 2014 and his brilliant distribution has been impossible to replicate.
Last year the Cheetahs conceded 32 tries in 16 games. They've already leaked 19 in five this season. They have missed the most tackles (113 or 22.6 per game) and made 69 handling errors - both the worst in the competition.
Coach Naka Drotske's words earlier this year have proved prophetic.
"Where Robert excelled was in his intensity and work rate, and in his ability to steal ball on the ground like an extra flank," Drotske said. "In that department it will be tough to replace Robert . [he] was in a class of his own ."
Francois Venter, Ebersohn's replacement, has admirable heart and is a strong defender one on one, but he doesn't have Ebersohn's tactical nous.
To compound the problem at inside centre, Venter has flown home after dislocating a shoulder during the Cheetahs' 60-27 loss against the Hurricanes.
Wing Ryno Benjamin is now ready to start in his place - a potential tactical blunder by Drotske, especially if All Black great Ma'a Nonu starts in the Blues' midfield.