The Toyota Free State Cheetahs’ comprehensive 45-0 whitewash of the Isuzu Southern Kings in their PRO14 Rugby derby in Bloemfontein on Saturday was the perfect build-up for what promises to be a tough forthcoming tour of Ireland and Wales.
The Cheetahs scored seven tries and by general consensus, including the view of coach Hawies Fourie, they could have scored more as they dominated the Eastern Cape from the outset and emphatically erased any memories of the negative aspects of their performance in the first round derby a week earlier.
Kings coach Robbi Kempson acknowledged afterwards that the Cheetahs are an extremely difficult side to play at home, which means that the Cheetahs will have an opportunity to get some momentum up when they play an extended run of matches at their home field in March.
However, before that they face a northern hemisphere tour that starts with a visit to champions Leinster on 15 February before proceeding to Ulster and then the Dragons. Their two wins over the Kings have partially made up for the unexpected defeat to the Zebre in early January and they hold a comfortable seven point lead over the Warriors in the race for a play-off spot from their Conference.
They could really find themselves in the pound seats, and in with a chance of finishing second in Conference A ahead of Ulster, if they win overseas and Fourie was happy with what the derby win did for the team’s confidence levels.
“We go onto the field with the aim of dominating ball possession and making the most of it and we made a few too many mistakes still in this game but I feel we have grown in confidence in the two derby games and that will help us in our next tour,” said Fourie.
“We knew the whole week they wanted to dominate the physical stuff but we dominated them. Last week, particularly in the first half, they had the upper hand on us at forward but we turned it around later in the game and again in this match, I thought our pack of forwards did really well today.”
Fourie would have been biting his nails when the Cheetahs fought back from a big deficit to win the first game in Port Elizabeth but he reckons his men are better off for having had the experience of coming back against the odds to win a game they probably should have lost.
“The last 10 minutes of the Port Elizabeth game was very important to our whole campaign. Had we lost there it could have gone pear shaped for us,” said the Cheetahs coach.
“Coming back like we did and Ruan Pienaar slotting the conversion to win it for us was huge for our confidence. As they say, a one point win can make a huge difference for the morale, and the converse for the opposition. It showed what great character this side has and really pulled the guys together.
“If you look at the negative side there were at least three tries we should have rounded off which we didn’t. But there were lots of opportunities we created, which is what we have been working towards. We worked hard on our execution this week but we are still not quite where we want to be and we have some work to do before we tour.”
Kings coach Robbi Kempson was livid with some of the circumstances that led to his team’s late defeat the week before but this time he had no complaints and gave all the credit to the Cheetahs for the way they played.
“I suppose you could say we played off a scratch handicap and this week not,” he jested.
“The Cheetahs were just very good, you have to give them credit for the way they played. They hit us with wave after wave of attack, they were exceptional at the breakdown, and when they get that sort of momentum going they are hard to stop.
“In some areas they are very strong. One of those is the driving maul. We earmarked that as an area to work on this week but they still managed to get over the line. I think what happened was that we gave them a fright last week and then in the back end of that game we gave them some heart and today they came out and hit us with their big guns.”