'We can’t play in SA with a defensive mind set‚' says Cheetahs coach Smith

Franco Smith, Head coach of the Toyota Cheetahs during the Toyota Cheetahs media conference at Toyota Stadium on August 28, 2018 in Bloemfontein, South Africa.
Franco Smith, Head coach of the Toyota Cheetahs during the Toyota Cheetahs media conference at Toyota Stadium on August 28, 2018 in Bloemfontein, South Africa.
Image: Frikkie Kapp/Gallo Images

Cheetahs coach Franco Smith wore an uneasy smile as Toyota renewed their title sponsorship of the franchise by another three years on Thursday.

That‚ however‚ soon made way for a steely grimace as he reflected on a Pro 14 campaign that fell well short of the standards they set in their maiden season in Europe last year.

They made the play-offs then but with three matches to go in this campaign‚ they are out of contention. The last thing Smith wants is for his team to go through the motions.

“Our execution needs to improve‚” said the coach with an air of resignation.

“The frustration is little things‚ the small errors. Teams execute well when they get 20m from the tryline in Europe. They score tries after 10 phases‚ something we are not that used to in Super Rugby.

"In the northern hemisphere every inch counts and ultimately the teams that makes the least mistakes end up winning.”

The Cheetahs have had to devise two different playing styles depending which side of the equator they play on.

In Europe they have to be more measured.

“We can’t play in South Africa with a defensive mind set‚" he said.

"We have to score. I always say ‘find ways of scoring tries‚ then you can worry about stopping the opposition’.

"You need players who can be physical‚ not a bunch of 23-year olds.

“That is our average age in the squad.

"We haven’t got internationals in our team. Oupa (Mohoje) was injured most of the time‚ Ox (Nché) played for 40 minutes and Rudy Paige hasn’t started a game yet. The other teams average 19 out of 23 (internationals).”

Smith went on to rattle off the names of players who passed through the Bram Fisher Airport’s departures lounge.

“It would be nice if we were able to replace players like Sergeal Petersen‚ Makazole Mapimpi‚ Clayton Blommetjies‚ Raymond Rhule‚ Francois Venter‚ Fred Zeilinga‚ Neil Marais‚ Torsten van Jaarsveld‚ Reniel Hugo and Uzair Cassiem. We can’t.”

Defence coach Charl Strydom pointed to the Cheetahs’ draw and travel arrangements as elements that further conspired against the team.

“For the first three months of the competition we had two home games‚" he said.

"You never get the flow of playing five in a row at home.

"I think this will be the first time this season we’ll have three games in a row at home this season. We have to get used to our own pitch.”

He too stressed the Cheetahs need to finish with a spring in their step in their remaining matches against Ospreys‚ Dragons and the Kings.

“We want to win those games because they serve as preparation for the Currie Cup. We want to go out on a high‚” said Strydom.

They are only too aware their sponsors can do with some good news. Said Andrew Kirby‚ president and chief executive of Toyota South Africa: “We will be watching the Currie Cup with a lot of interest.

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