Cheetahs and Kings all set to get the ball rolling

27 August 2017 - 00:00 By CRAIG RAY

On Friday rugby administrators and fans will be watching the Cheetahs closely when they make their Pro14 debut against Irish province Ulster as it marks the beginning of a new world for South African rugby to explore.
The Cheetahs and Southern Kings playing in Europe in a meaningful and lucrative competition was a pipe dream six months ago. And yet here we are, the result of two willing parties with vision accelerated by necessity making the seemingly impossible possible in a matter of months for what could be the beginning of a new rugby world that could shake the balance of the sport to its core.
South Africa has long looked for a viable way into Europe without wholly abandoning its southern hemisphere partners, New Zealand, Australia and Argentina in Sanzaar, and Pro14 has provided it.
Before the Cheetahs and Southern Kings were axed from Super Rugby, the alert suits at Pro14 - it was still Pro12 then - spotted an opportunity.
Their ambition to expand their league to close financial and commercial gaps on France's Top 14 and England's Premier League required a fresh market, and South Africa presented the ideal opportunity.
Pro14 chief executive Martin Anayi and his SA Rugby counterpart, Jurie Roux, began a dialogue that moved quickly because they needed each other.
Roux dodged a political mess by giving the Cheetahs and Kings an alternative to Super Rugby while keeping his partners at Sanzaar happy and Anayi gained a vital foothold in the South African market.
It's a win-win on paper. But on Friday the Cheetahs, followed on Saturday when the Kings make their debut against defending Champions the Scarlets in Llanelli, will have to make their own case on the field.
"Physically this is going to be very tough for the South African players," Free State Cheetahs director of rugby Franco Smith told the Sunday Times.
"Most players will be reaching about 1400 minutes of rugby this season, which is a huge amount of playing time.
"Coaches will have to be smart and in training we will have to adapt to these unique demands.
"There won't be a proper preseason break at the end of the year for Cheetahs and Kings players, I can't see that changing for some time.
"But there are ways to deal with these physical demands and it will come down to how we adapt on the training field.
"I can't speak for Rory Duncan (who will coach the Cheetahs) because he will make his own decisions.
"I will give input and advice but it will be up to him how they manage it."

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