Cheetahs ready for year-end push against Scarlets

 Free State U/19 celebrates during the SA Rugby U/19 Championship match between DHL Western Province U19 and Toyota Free State Cheetahs U19 at DHL Newlands on October 21, 2017 in Cape Town.
Free State U/19 celebrates during the SA Rugby U/19 Championship match between DHL Western Province U19 and Toyota Free State Cheetahs U19 at DHL Newlands on October 21, 2017 in Cape Town.
Image: GALLO IMAGES

The Cheetahs are going to leave nothing in the tank as they make one last push for the year when they take on defending PRO14 champions the Scarlets in Bloemfontein on Saturday.

It’s the Free State team’s last match of the year before they resume their campaign in early January‚ and winning would leave them in a healthy position going into the Christmas break.

Last weekend the Cheetahs notched up their fifth win of the tournament‚ in their ninth outing‚ by beating Edinburgh at home and they are now well entrenched in third in Conference A.

That leaves them in playoff position at the halfway mark of the campaign‚ but coach Rory Duncan believes they have found their feet and are optimistic about the second half of the season.

However‚ beating the Scarlets is a massive priority for the Cheetahs‚ not only for log position but also because they don’t want to be stewing on a home loss for over a month.

“It will be nice to go into our break with a win to maintain some momentum‚” Duncan said.

“If you lose‚ you really want to get out there as soon as possible to rectify it. But we don’t have a game for over a month after this match‚ so winning is vital for more than just the obvious reasons.

“But we’re not naïve and realise that the Scarlet are a very good team. We will have to be at our best against them.

“The Kings were a bit unfortunate to lose against the Scarlets last week (the Kings went down 34-30)‚ but the visitors showed their class. They have only lost one game this year and are the defending champions‚ which says it all about their quality.”

The Cheetahs players and management will have leave from Sunday before returning to prepare for their next game‚ away against Benetton on January 6.

Despite having played rugby since February‚ the structure of PRO14 has given the Cheetahs some breaks between fixtures and will throw up several more as the season progresses. Duncan is happy with the situation.

“We’ve managed the players as best as possible and we have had some time off here and there‚” Duncan said. “They had 10 days off after the Connacht game and after this match they players are off until December 28.

“Although it’s been a long season in terms of time‚ we have managed the players well and we can see their conditioning is up to standard. They have been sharp at training and after this match they will have a relatively long break.

“We have a lot of short breaks because of the structure of the competition‚ which I see as a positive. We are able to go into more detail in our analysis and training because we have a bit more time.”

The Free Staters are clearly enjoying the new challenge after taking a little while to settle into the competition.

“The quality of the tournament was a bit of surprise in the first few weeks‚” Duncan admitted. “When we started in PRO14‚ we were top of the Currie Cup standings with five wins in six games.

“Losing those first two games in PRO14 was a surprise‚ but it was a learning experience that forced us to make some technical changes to our game and our game management. That’s paying off for us now.”

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