- Cheetahs coach Hawies Fourie has told his players not to let emotion get the better of them in their Super Rugby Unlocked opener against the Pumas.
- He believes actively participating in a competition helps everyone forget about the distraction and disappointment of the PRO14 axing.
- Skipper Ruan Pienaar relishes the chance to gauge his troops against the Super Rugby franchises, even if it will be process-driven.
While tensions continue to simmer off the field over the Cheetahs’ unceremonious axing from PRO Rugby, the team itself is focused on channelling any frustration positively ahead of their Super Rugby Unlocked opener against the Pumas at home on Saturday.
Hawies Fourie, the central franchise’s head coach, naturally wants his charges to maintain high standards as they set out to challenge for the the two trophies that will be on offer but has warned that playing to prove what is essentially a political point won’t help their cause.
“It’s not going to work for us if we focus on the negative things that happened in the build-up to the game,” he said on Thursday.
“We’re not here to prove anything except playing well in the two competitions, particularly in defending our Currie Cup title. We should only be focusing on that.”
Given the profound emotional impact that SA Rugby’s general council’s decision has had on the players, coaches and administrators – even a broader section of the local rugby community – merely getting back onto the field is just the tonic to soothe the disappointment.
“We’re actually quite lucky that we’re starting a competition now that we can give our full attention to,” said Fourie.
“It becomes a rather difficult situation when you’re not really playing. There are a lot of other things on your mind and you can get distracted easily. Everyone is a little more focused now. We just want to play as well as we can and look after each other.”
For a more vociferous critic like Ruan Pienaar, it might be a bit more difficult to wholly separate emotion from ruthlessly getting on with the job but he’s nonetheless aiming to be on full alert.
“Yeah, it’s a situation with conflicting emotions. The decision has been made, I don’t think it’s going to change the people that matters’ minds when we win Super Rugby Unlocked or the Currie Cup,” the Cheetahs skipper noted pragmatically.
“What I’ve told the guys is that we have a competition to play in now and we need to stay strong as a group. I’m confident we’ll achieve that objective.
“Obviously it’s going to be a nice feeling if we give a few of bigger dogs a bit of a scare but it’s not a priority.”
From a more neutral rugby perspective, the question of how the Cheetahs fare in comparison to the Super Rugby franchises that have replaced them in PRO Rugby will indeed be an interesting examination.
“We definitely talked about it,” said Pienaar.
“But it’s going to have to be process-driven, to take it game-by-game. The Pumas are a difficult team to face. We looked at footage again from last year and we only won narrowly.
“I think we first need to get this game out of the way, make sure we perform well and take it from there.”
15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Malcolm Jaer, 13 Benhard Janse van Rensburg, 12 Frans Steyn, 11 Rosko Specman, 10 Tian Schoeman, 9 Ruan Pienaar (captain), 8 Jasper Wiese, 7 Junior Pokomela, 6 Andisa Ntsila, 5 Walt Steenkamp, 4 Carl Wegner, 3 Luan de Bruin, 2 Reinach Venter, 1 Charles Marais
Substitutes: 16 Louis van der Westhuizen, 17 Boan Venter, 18 Erich de Jager, 19 JP du Preez, 20 Chris Massyn, 21 Aidon Davis, 22 Tian Meyer, 23 William Small-Smith
15 Devon Williams, 14 Luther Obi, 13 Wayne van der Bank, 12 Ryan Nell (captain), 11 Neil Maritz, 10 Eddie Fouché, 9 Ginter Smuts, 8 Willie Engelbrecht, 7 Kwanda Dimaza, 6 Daniel Maartens, 5 Cameron Lindsay, 4 Le Roux Roets, 3 Ruan Kramer, 2 Marko Janse van Rensburg, 1 Morgan Naudé.
Substitutes: 16 Simon Westraadt, 17 Liam Hendricks, 18 Dewald Maritz, 19 Darrien Landsberg, 20 Jeandré Rudolph, 21 Dian Badenhorst, 22 Niel Marais, 23 Ruwellyn Isbell