‘Bulls are more physical at Loftus’

The Cheetahs may not have some of the more fashionable Springboks in their line-up, but led from the front by their stirring skipper Juan Smith, 2007 could be their year.

In 2005 nobody really gave the Cheetahs any chance in the Currie Cup until they stole the lead from the Blue Bulls in the final with minutes to play. And once again, most pundits have tipped the Sharks and the Bulls to front the South African campaign in the Super 14, ignoring the Currie Cup champions of two years running.

But when Bok number seven Juan Smith spoke to rugby365, the quiet confidence oozing from within that frontier town of Bloemfontein was quite tangible.

They aren’t anybody’s favourites. And that’s how trophies are won in the Free State.

Smith is happy with the label.

“I am not going to make any predictions. But I believe we are going to do much better than last year.”

If Smith’s performance on Saturday is anything to go by, then the Cheetahs need to be taken seriously. The much-touted Stormers trio were completely nullified as Juan Smith did some storming of his own to win the Man of the Match award.

“We all know that theirs is a highly-rated loose trio. But I am playing alongside guys like Ryno van der Merwe and Hendro Scholtz – there was no need to feel under pressure last Saturday with those guys besides me.”

Smith believes that getting rid of the traditional touring bugbear is key to success.

“We want to play good rugby at home, like always. But the difference this year needs to be on tour. Last year we got a hiding at the hands of teams like the Crusaders and the Brumbies.

“This year we aim to tour with a positive attitude.”

Last year the Cheetahs perhaps suffered from a lack of depth, which is crucial in a competition as gruelling as the Super 14.

“This year we have guys like Alwyn Hollenbach and Willem de Waal who weren’t even on the bench on Saturday. In the Super 14 you are always going to have to rotate your squad and everybody will play their part.”

As for Smith’s injury woes of last year, they are a thing of the past.

“I am very happy with my fitness.”

Smith also believes that this year, with a year of captaincy already under his belt, he is able to achieve a greater balance between focus upon captaincy and focus on play.

“The captaincy is made easier by having guys like Rassie (Erasmus), Naka (Drotske) and Franco (Smith) all in support. They carry the weight of experience.

“Whilst on the field there are guys like Ollie le Roux, CJ van der Linde and Ryno van der Merwe who are all leaders in their own right.”

The Cheetahs play their home games in the beginning of this year’s tournament, but this week they interrupt their run at home with a match in Pretoria against staunch rivals the Bulls.

“They will be more physical at Loftus than if we played them in Bloemfontein. Their home-ground advantage does that.

“We always like to play the Bulls. If you match them physically, then you can play great rugby against them.”

365 Digital

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