The Vodacom Cheetahs added Barend Pieterse to their list of players gone for the season today. Several others forwards are also doubtful for the crucial match in Pretoria this weekend.
Pieterse, who has been on one the standout forwards for the champs whether at lock or at flank, has torn a quadricep muscle and will take no further part in this year’s title defence. A further group of players that did not train today in Bloemfontein included Gaffie du Toit, Rory Duncan and Darron Nel.
Tighthead Jannie du Plessis has also picked up a slight knee ailment, but managed to complete the training session. His availability for the match against the Vodacom Blue Bulls will be known later this week.
“There were a lot of bruised bodies after that game against the Sharks,” Du Plessis told keo.co.za. “We now know for sure that Barend is out, which is a huge loss. Darron, Rory and Gaffie are all struggling at the moment, but they may yet play at Loftus.”
The Bulls are well-known for their physical propensities, and are in rampant form after downing Griquas 60-22 in Kimberley last week. Without many of their first choice players in the pack, the Cheetahs forwards may be vulnerable to conquest once again by the big blue machine.
“They really man-handled us in the previous game,” explained Du Plessis, “so it is going to be a tough ask. I noticed how well they’ve scrummed against Griquas last weekend. Griquas have a solid scrum, but were always under pressure from the Bulls front row.”
While this development does not necessarily dictate an automatic victory to the team from Pretoria, the Lions hopes of proceeding into the semis will have diminished considerably. The Lions need the champs to beat the Bulls by at least eight points to claim fourth spot on the log.
The Cheetahs, however, have their own team to consider before doing any favours. Du Plessis confirmed the ambivalence of the situation, as a win or a loss will lift them for the knockout stage.
“Besides Barend, if these other players are ruled out it could turn out to be a blessing in disguise, as they will then have more time to recover before the semis.
“When you lose, it always raises your intensity and levels of concentration that much more for the next game. On the other hand, you need to go into the big games with the confidence that winning provides.
“It’s a difficult scenario. Obviously it is an important game that we won’t be taking lightly, but we do have the comfort of knowing that we are already through to the next round.”
A ray of light in this dreary fitness outlook is that Meyer Bosman has resumed training, and is a hopeful inclusion to next week’s semifinal.
“Meyer’s been doing some running and practising his kicks,” said Du Plessis. “He hasn’t managed to take any contact just yet, but I think that he should be ready in time for the semi-finals.
“That is not to say that Willem de Waal is not the man for the big occasion. Willem’s the type of guy who can nail those pressure kicks in big games nine out of ten times. Having Meyer back will just give us a few more options.”
By Jon Cardinelli