Cheetahs

Battered Cheetahs limp into Auckland

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Building up to what manager Naka Drotsk’ describes as “the toughest game on tour”, the Cheetahs are faced with a crippling list of injuries that could put another huge damper on their aspirations.

The Cheetahs’ play-off aspirations were dealt a big blow with the 21-17 loss to the Highlanders in Invercargill last Friday, but they are now faced with an even bigger hurdle … facing the table-topping Blues in Auckland this Friday.

However, it is not just the opposition that is causing the Cheetahs team management sleepless nights.

A host of their top stars are doubtful starts for the encounter with the Blues.

“We have a few problems,” Drotsk’ said of the injury curse that visited the team since their loss to the Highlanders at the weekend.

“At this stage they are all 50/50 … touch and go.

Top of the injury list is captain and star flank Juan Smith, who took a knock to the knee against the Highlanders.

With Springbok props Os du Randt (rested) and CJ van der Linde (hand injury) both back home in South Africa, the calf injury of prop Jannie du Plessis could prove to be an equally devastating blow.

Add to this hooker Richardt Strauss (shoulder injury), centre Ronnie Cooke (bicep muscle injury) and number eight Ryno van der Merwe (neck injury) and you suddenly realise the enormity of the problem facing the touring South African franchise.

Drotsk’ made it clear they will not take any chances with any player and will only play them if they are 100 percent fit.

“This is only our second match on tour and you don’t want to risk injured players this early in a five-week tour. With another three games after this and a game at home against the Lions we need to think ahead.

“If we can win three of these games we still had a good season and could finish very close to the play-offs. The teams are so close and games so tight that I think the play-off points [entry level into the play-offs] will be a lot lower this year than in the past.”

Drotsk’ described the decision about playing the injured players or not as a “tough call” and added that the decision will only be made on Wednesday or Thursday.

“What if we go for it this weekend and play all five those guys. Sure, they are not serious injuries, but they won’t be ready before Thursday or Friday. However, should they aggravate those injuries they could be doubtful again the next week or even longer.

“That is the difficult call we have to make … maybe if we rest them they’ll be 100 percent when we face the Hurricanes the following week. We certainly don’t want to take an unnecessary risk.”

With the Blues as opposition this week the temptation to play the best team must be huge.

“This is going to be a very tough game, make no mistake,” Drotsk’ said.

“The Blues’ record speaks for itself. They are top of the standings, they’ve got an incredible team and a host of game breakers in the backline and forwards.

“This is without doubt our most difficult game on tour,” Drotsk’ added.

He also spoke of the obvious disappointment of having come within inches of a win over the Highlanders at the weekend.

“We conceded one or two soft tries [against the Highlanders], but towards the end of the game we were unlucky not to get the last try. We could have won … which would have been the first time in the last two years that we would have won overseas.

“There is a fine balance to how you play and what the result looks like. A New Zealand team in New Zealand is just 20 to 30 percent better than when you play them in South Africa.

“We knew they would come for us and our set pieces were under pressure – in the scrums we were under pressure with Carl Hayman and Anton Oliver, in the line-outs they competed very well.

“Also in the first 10 minutes we got a yellow card, by the time [prop] Wian du Preez got back to the field we were 11-0 behind. To ask a bunch of young players to come back from 11-0 against the Highlanders is a tall order, but at the end we were on their tryline and desperately unlucky not to have scored.”

By Jan de Koning 365 Digital 

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