First challenge for the champs

After conquering mediocre opposition in the first three rounds, Rassie Erasmus believes his side will obtain a clearer view of their standing after Saturday’s game at Newlands.

“It should be a hell of a close encounter,” Erasmus told keo.co.za. “I just remember from my playing days that it was never easy to go away from Newlands with a win. The difference should be a couple of points this weekend.”

The Vodacom Cheetahs have reached the half-century mark in all of their three matches, beating Griquas 55-14, the Valke 68-9 and the Lions 59-5, but another 50-pointer seems less likely against a vastly improved Vodacom Western Province.

“I don’t want to try and sound like I’m downplaying my side, but those big wins were against three teams finding their feet in the competition,” Erasmus said.

“The Valke are new to this level of rugby, whilst Griquas just snuck into the tournament through the back door. The Lions are a new side with a lot of young players that need time to adapt to the intensity.”

The Cheetahs will come up against a buoyant WP side, who achieved the improbable feat of taking the spoils at Loftus Versfeld last week.

“We struggled at the breakdown against the Lions, and this Saturday we are playing against a team that has really strong loose forwards in Justin Melck and Luke Watson,” Erasmus remarked. “Schalk Brits and Corne Uys also showed how good they are on the ground.”

The WP forwards continue to embarrass their critics by consistently performing in the set pieces. Lack of experience is yet to play a role, and Erasmus believes that the two teams are really quite similar in this respect.

“I’m tired of people saying that we have an experienced pack. Who had heard of Jaco du Toit before last year, or even Jannie du Plessis? Ollie (le Roux) remains the most experienced player in our front row, but the other guys have not been around for long at all.

“Both WP and the Cheetahs are similar in that they are playing well with a young and inexperienced side.”

Although Erasmus remains grounded about the Cheetahs progress, he is adamant that the team from Bloemfontein should record their fourth successive win this weekend.

“Like I said, it will be close, but I don’t think that they are the favourites.”

By Jon Cardinelli