Cheetahs scrumhalf Michael Claassens expects George Gregan to be his toughest opponent in the Vodacom Super 14 to date when the Cheetahs meet the Brumbies in Canberra on Saturday.
While Claassens has already played against the likes of Ruan Pienaar, Piri Weepu and Chris Whitaker this year, he says it’s Gregan who will provide the ulitimate test.
Claassens’ respect for the 32-year-old Wallaby captain is understandable. The Free Stater has played just 16 Super Rugby matches and six Tests in his short career, while Gregan has played more Super Rugby matches (112) and Tests (118) than anyone else.
“Gregan’s a legend,” Claassens told keo.co.za. “I think every scrumhalf in the competition wants to ‘jol’ against him. He’s done an amazing job for the Brumbies since the beginning of the Super 12 and is still going strong.”
While the Cheetahs are pleased to be sixth on the Super 14 log, Claassens believes his own game can improve.
“I’m not that happy with my form at the moment, but I’m getting better every week,” he said. “I guess I’d rather save my best form for the end of the Super 14 than the first two weeks of the competition. There are still six matches to go and that’s a lot of rugby.”
Claassens admits there is pressure on him as the current Bok No 9, something that may have impacted on his form this year.
“South Africa is lucky to have so many scrumhalves and there is intense competition,” he said. “Ricky Januarie, Fourie du Preez and Bolla Conradie have all been in the Bok squad recently, while Ruan Pienaar is doing well with the Sharks. Having these guys around really keeps you on your toes.”
As far as the Cheetahs are concerned, Claassens’ main rival is Falie Oelshig, who has been used as an impact player midway through the second half.
“Falie and I are actually great mates and get on really well with each other,” he said. “I back him, he backs me, and we both do our best for the team.”
However, with Oelshig banned for a week after throwing a punch against the Waratahs, the Cheetahs will turn to Barry Goodes if Claassens is injured against the Brumbies.
Can Goodes do the job at No 9?
“Um … well … he’s a centre,” said Claassens. “But he’s got a really good pass and I’m sure he could take over if something happened to me. Hopefully I’ll be able to get through the entire 80 minutes!”
By Simon Borchardt