Kings and Chee­tahs play for time as Pro 14 taxes them

Sunday Times - - Sport Interview / Soccer - By LIAM DEL CARME

● Time, the Chee­tahs and the South­ern Kings have both stressed, is what they need to es­tab­lish them­selves in the Pro 14 com­pe­ti­tion.

Whether time is on their side is a dif­fer­ent mat­ter, as they strug­gle in sec­ond last and last po­si­tion in their re­spec­tive con­fer­ences in the in­tercon­ti­nen­tal com­pe­ti­tion.

Both camps are acutely aware they’ll have to im­prove to fully jus­tify their ex­is­tence in the de­mand­ing com­pe­ti­tion.

“We have been sur­prised by the qual­ity of the teams. It is chal­leng­ing,” ad­mit­ted Chee­tahs CE Harold Ver­ster.

His coun­ter­part at the Kings, Charl Crous, is in agree­ment. “It cer­tainly hasn’t been dis­ap­point­ing. It has been a hugely chal­leng­ing com­pe­ti­tion but it is one we want to be in­volved in.”

Though the Chee­tahs made the play-offs last year, both teams have dis­ap­pointed this year. Un­der­stand­ably, the com­pe­ti­tion’s or­gan­is­ers, who are re­cep­tive to the idea of fur­ther ex­pan­sion, are wary of which South African teams are ear­marked for en­try post 2019.

SA Rugby be­stowed fran­chise sta­tus on Gri­quas and the Pu­mas last sea­son in the hope their new con­tract­ing model would al­low the coun­try’s player pool to be dis­trib­uted more eq­ui­tably by then.

Still, the Chee­tahs and the Kings need im­prov­ing. “Clearly there are chal­lenges that we have to over­come,” said Ver­ster, whose team lost more than a dozen play­ers be­tween their first and sec­ond sea­son in Pro14.

“On the field, they play a dif­fer­ent brand of rugby. Un­like Super Rugby that re­lies a lot on tempo, they play a power-based game in the north and con­test the break­downs more.

“Off the field, we’ve gained good ex­pe­ri­ence and have learnt a few things. They play in 10,000-seater sta­di­ums and it is al­ways full. We play in 45,000-seater sta­di­ums and its al­most empty. We have to look at ways to re­duce our ca­pac­ity.

“We now have to play in our sum­mer which is a chal­lenge. Maybe we have to look at sched­ul­ing matches at night.”

The Kings have been with their backs to the wall from the out­set. “In our first year our big­gest chal­lenge was not be­ing able to pre­pare ad­e­quately,” Crous said of the South African con­tin­gent’s 11th hour in­clu­sion in the com­pe­ti­tion. “This sea­son we had late ap­provals. We couldn’t fi­nalise our squad when we wanted to.

“Next sea­son we are hop­ing to get more op­por­tu­nity to pre­pare well for the tour­na­ment and maybe have a proper pre-sea­son.

“On the strength of the Pro14 we were able to find a spon­sor like Isuzu which pro­vided us with a platform to do things from a com­mer­cial point of view,” said Crous.

The Chee­tahs don’t nos­tal­gi­cally re­flect on their days in Super Rugby, but Ver­ster con­cedes there are days when they miss the old beast. “We do miss the derby matches. Maybe with more South African teams in the Pro14 that will change.

“There are chal­lenges but I think it will be to South African rugby’s ben­e­fit if we have more teams in the Pro14. Look at how well Ire­land have done of late.”

Cru­saders fans show their sup­port dur­ing last sea­son’s fi­nal against the Li­ons.

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