Cheetahs to shed ‘second year blues’



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Cheetahs captain Juan Smith, speaking of the need to beat the team’s second year blues, is confident they can overcome the slow start to their Australasian tour and make 2007 a successful season.

Speaking from the team’s base in Wellington, where they are preparing for their Round 11 Super 14 showdown with the Hurricanes on Friday, Smith said that the players have remained upbeat, despite defeats against the Highlanders and Blues in the first two outings of a five-match trip.

However, he warned that they will need to lift the bar considerably against the Hurricanes at Wellington’s Cake Tin – Westpac Stadium – if their are to succeed in their drive to record their first ever win abroad.

Smith said the Hurricanes are different from other Kiwi outfits, because they thrive mainly on the opposition’s mistakes.

“The Hurricanes live off turnovers,” Smith told this website.

He said the Cheetahs will need to look after the ball.

“At the breakdown it is vital to retain possession.

“They [the Hurricanes] are not a team that focus a lot on set pieces and work on moves from there. Unlike a team such as the Blues – who with their centres that are devastating off set pieces – they [the Hurricanes] prefer broken play.

“Yes, the Hurricanes do have physical backs, but they live and thrive on turnovers and that is where they really beat teams.

“So if we can manage that aspect of the game, we’ll do well on Friday,” Smith added.

The Cheetahs captain admitted that his team’s set pieces have not been the best this year, but he felt they are not as far off the mark as some suggested.

“You will find that in an aspect like the line-outs teams have analysed us from last year, when we were winning up to 90 percent of our own line-outs and we won up to 30 percent of the opposition’s line-outs.

“At the moment opposition teams are working hard on contesting our ball and put pressure on us up front, but it is not a big issue for us. We are working from game to game on this aspect and it is a matter of fine-tuning some things to get back on par,” he added.

The Cheetahs captain said the team’s record – three wins and a draw from nine starts – is not reflective of the team’s ability. Not even two defeats on tour and the fact that the team is yet to win a match abroad have broken the team’s spirit.

“At the moment we’re still very positive. We know we didn’t use our chances against the Highlanders – we could easily have scored a try in that last minute that would have turned [a 17-21] defeat into victory.

“The Blues [who beat the Cheetahs 8-26 last week] are just incredible. It was always going to be a tall order to beat them on their home ground … they’re not top of the table for nothing.

“Apart from that we are e very upbeat about this coming Friday,” Smith said.

Smith admitted that a high injury toll and the resultant introduction of some youngsters may have contributed to the team’s downfall, but he also said these young players are doing the team proud.

“It is always an issue when you bring in youngsters, because you simply can’t buy experience … it comes with time. Something like Hans van Dyk’s line-out throw – the ball going over the top five metres out when we were close to scoring to score and then they go score – those things come with time.

“The next time he won’t be so nervous, but that comes with more game time.

“I don’t think they [the youngsters] are doing too badly, against the Blues they did their job.”

He said part of the problem is that teams are analysing them, the Cheetahs, much better this year.

“Any team’s first year is always the easiest, because the other teams don’t know you and they don’t know what to expect.

“Last year our forwards did really well with our set pieces and our driving. This year we can see that other teams have analysed us in those aspects and that is where they are attacking us at present.

“Your first year is always easier than the second. However, I do feel we are making progress – we’ve won three games already and drawn another, and we have another four games to go this year. If we get back on the winning track this week we can finish the season with six or seven victories.”

He felt that in years to come the experience gained now will help the Cheetahs become as competitive as teams like the Crusaders and Blues.

“It is small things that you can work on, things like the last penalty we conceded against the Chiefs [which allowed them to draw the game]. Against the Highlanders we just failed to finish off at the end.

“Those things will come with time. Look at the Crusaders, they have been together for eight or nine years as a team and that’s why they play such great rugby. The same goes for the Blues.

“In our second year we are on par for what we want to achieve.”

He said the Bulls are another example of how a team can improve by keeping the squad together and keep working towards your goals.

“For sure, continuity is important. But there is also the fact that we’ve had so many injuries. Such a high number of injuries will disrupt any team, especially if those injuries are in the pack [forwards]. If you look at the Blues, they did not have nearly as many injuries, which has allowed them to get some continuity going.

“If you get some continuity in the forwards and team in general, the results will improve.”

By Jan de Koning 365 Digital 

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