Learn­ing curve: Coaches sing the praises of PRO14 cam­paign

Saturday Star - - SPORT - JAC­QUES VAN DER WESTHUYZEN

SOUTH Africa’s two Pro14 coaches have given the Europe­based com­pe­ti­tion the thumb­sup and en­cour­aged rugby bosses to con­sider get­ting more teams in­volved in fu­ture.

The Chee­tahs and Kings have just com­pleted their first stint in the com­pe­ti­tion, which pre­vi­ously in­cluded teams from only Ire­land, Wales, Scot­land and Italy.

The in­clu­sion of the two South Africa sides has been widely hailed, with the Chee­tahs es­pe­cially do­ing well – they fin­ished third in con­fer­ence A with 12 wins from 21 matches – while the Kings strug­gled to just one win in con­fer­ence B.

How­ever, both Rory Dun­can of the Chee­tahs and Deon Davids of the Kings said they, and the play­ers, had en­joyed the com­pe­ti­tion.

“It’s been bril­liant,” said Chee­tahs boss Dun­can.

“It’s a great com­pe­ti­tion and the play­ers were ex­cited about vis­it­ing new places on a reg­u­lar ba­sis and fac­ing dif­fer­ent play­ers each week­end. It would be great to see more SA teams in the com­pe­ti­tion.”

Davids added: “It was a fan­tas­tic ex­pe­ri­ence for all of us. There were plenty of firsts for a lot of the squad mem­bers, like vis­it­ing new towns and cities, and ex­pe­ri­enc­ing dif­fer­ent cul­tures and styles of rugby. It was very en­joy­able.”

The Kings boss fur­ther stated it would be good if more South African play­ers fea­tured in the Pro14.

“It is a high-qual­ity com­pe­ti­tion and be­cause you’re up against dif­fer­ent play­ers and teams from so many dif­fer­ent coun­tries you’re learn­ing all the time.

“The styles and mind­sets you go up against are al­ways chang­ing and dif­fer­ent and that teaches the play­ers to adapt and learn quickly. The pres­sures each and every match are dif­fer­ent ... and that can only be a ben­e­fit to the play­ers.”

There has been talk in re­cent days of more SA teams join­ing the Chee­tahs and Kings in the more lu­cra­tive, trav­el­friendly and time-zone-friendly North­ern Hemi­sphere from 2020, when the cur­rent Su­per Rugby deals are rene­go­ti­ated and come into force, but th­ese have been de­nied as just ru­mours and spec­u­la­tion by nu­mer­ous rugby bosses in­volved in SA Su­per Rugby fran­chises.

It would, how­ever, seem to be an op­tion that is cer­tainly on the ta­ble.

Dun­can said there were few neg­a­tives play­ing in the Pro14.

“From a travel per­spec­tive it was a lot eas­ier (than in Su­per Rugby), and that’s a big plus. Sure, you travel more often, but the trips are shorter, and it’s qual­ity opposition each week, in try­ing con­di­tions. My play­ers have grown and ma­tured quite a lot.

“The only tough part was the weather at times ... and go­ing from a hot Free State sum­mer to the cold of Europe. It snowed, there was sleet, strong winds, icy tem­per­a­tures, so there are those ex­tremes to deal with.”

The Kings sadly bat­tled through­out the nearly 10-month com­pe­ti­tion, but Davids felt his team’s and the Chee­tahs’ late in­clu­sion in Pro14 last year didn’t help.

“We couldn’t prop­erly pre­pare via a pre-sea­son, and we weren’t able to build depth, and the in­juries got to us in the end,” he said.

“It’s a long, de­mand­ing com­pe­ti­tion, and if you’re go­ing to be suc­cess­ful you need all your things in place, and you need a lot of play­ers.”

Not too many rugby fans out­side of the Eastern Cape and the Free State would have kept an eye on what the Kings and Chee­tahs were up to each week – mainly be­cause the com­pe­ti­tion ran through­out the “off sea­son” of Novem­ber, De­cem­ber and Jan­uary and then while the more es­tab­lished Su­per Rugby com­pe­ti­tion was, and still is, on­go­ing.

Dun­can though said he and his play­ers never felt “left out” of the rugby pro­gramme in South Africa.

“No, never. The com­pe­ti­tion though, and our par­tic­i­pa­tion in it, will gain more trac­tion as it goes on. If more teams (from SA) were in­volved it might be ap­pre­ci­ated more ... but that will hap­pen in time.”

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