The Toyota Cheetahs have not even become accustomed to displaying South Africa’s Premier domestic trophy – the Currie Cup – in their stadium before they had to turn their attention to a bigger challenge in this year’s Guinness PRO14 Championship.
The Currie Cup champions swept to the title earlier this month by beating the Lions on their home turf, but their focus is now solely on their mouth-watering opening fixture against last season’s PRO14 finalists, Glasgow Warriors in Bloemfontein on Friday.
Coach Franco Smith, who is set to depart the team, has stayed on as new coach Hawies Fourie is dealing with the recovery from an operation, and will take charge of the side for the first three games, thereby continuing the momentum gained from the Currie Cup Championship.
And Smith knows the dangers of expectation, especially with the central South African city still buzzing from the Currie Cup victory.
“There are so many positives and negatives about this, but we can only focus on the positives,” Smith said.
“Our worst enemy at the moment is expectation and people think we are just going to go from one Championship to the next and everything will just fall into place. I know from experience, we have to keep on working hard because we are not the final product yet.
“That is the mentality amongst the players. We’ve achieved well by winning the Currie Cup and we have enjoyed that moment, but these guys are really task-driven and now to get the momentum and use the opportunity is important.”
Smith believes that the Cheetahs will be at their best in this year’s Guinness PRO14, especially as they’ve had the perfect momentum shift in the Currie Cup, and have a fit, in-form squad that will be tough opposition on the warm Highveld this weekend.
“I don’t think we have been as prepared for this Championship as now. We must make sure we don’t get caught out by either being complacent – which I don’t think we can ever be, or underprepared, or underestimate what is coming.
“This is going to be a very important three weeks for Cheetah rugby, not just to keep on with the momentum, but to kick on and perform better.”
While there are 116 players at the Rugby World Cup at the moment from Guinness PRO14, Smith doesn’t believe that the Warriors side he encounters in Bloemfontein will be any less dangerous. Glasgow have no less than 12 players currently in Japan including big guns like Tommy Seymour, Fraser Brown and Johnny Gray.
“Every club knew they would be without their international players. I’ve been in that position with Benneton, and you know as coach you make a plan. You get a good group of players together that is competitive, especially when those players are away,” Smith explained.
“This is a very special year and many of those clubs have invested money to get other international players to their clubs. After the World Cup, those clubs will need to manage the playing time of their international players, because that is when the Champions Cup starts. Add to this clubs that lose games that they feel they should have win and once they get going, the Six Nations starts.
“They would have planned for this and I have no doubt that Glasgow will field a strong side this Friday. They have invested and have saved for four years to ensure they have good replacements.
“Their younger players will also want to prove they are the future of the club and will want to secure their long-term futures at the club. They have nothing to lose and have had a perfect pre-season. So they will be very dangerous.”
Friday night’s kickoff will be the third season for the Cheetahs in the Guinness PRO14 and they will be eyeing a playoff spot – something they achieved in their opening season in the Championship.
But right now the focus is on the Warriors, and while Smith believes the visitors will be dangerous, the combination of momentum, the expectation of a home crowd still enjoying their run in the Currie Cup and one golden trophy makes the home side a tough encounter for the Scots this Friday.