Cheetahs tough it out

The Vodacom Cheetahs will shrug off the pain of a strenuous season as they prepare for another physical fracas in Bloemfontein against the Sharks this Saturday.

The semi-final should be a replay from the league game played a week and a half ago, with a close finish being the end result of a heated battle up front. The Cheetahs snuck home 37-35 thanks to a missed conversion at the death by Sharks scrumhalf Ruan Pienaar.

“We have had a long season, but the guys are well up for the match this weekend,” Le Roux told keo.co.za. “There were a few bruised bodies after the Bulls game, but nothing serious.”

Time must be taking it’s toll on the Free State front row, who will face a tough opposition scrum for the third consecutive week. At 33, Le Roux himself must be feeling the aches of the extended competition, but he remains enthusiastic about the Cheetahs’s chances.

“I always look forward to scrumming against the Sharks, and what greater challenge than going up against the Springbok tighthead, BJ Botha.

“But our scrum has been solid this year, and also possess one of the top No 3s in the country in Jannie du Plessis. He’s in incredible form at the moment.”

Fortune seems to favoured the Cheetahs just in time as they are expected to regain a couple of players in time for the playoffs. Flyhalf Meyer Bosman and Corniel van Zyl are still recovering, but are expected to be included in the squad for the game on Saturday. Barend Pieterse is making steady progress with his thigh injury, but is less certain to make the cut.

With Philip Burger scoring a hat-trick over the weekend, fullback Bevin Fortuin’s return may be stifled, but as usual, the Free State side will only be revealed at the last possible minute.

“Philip is an absolutely electrifying player when he has the ball in
his hand,” remarked Le Roux. “He is living proof that there is no
substitute for pace.”

Playing at fullback, Burger scored three tries in the 31-41 loss to the
Vodacom Blue Bulls, ensuring the champs finished with a bonus point and top spot on the log. Despite not having started every game in this year’s Absa Currie Cup, he has a prolific record of 14 tries, the highest in the competition. His tally for the season stands at 23, which is just one shy of Jan Harm van Wyk’s 24.

“Philip plays a special part in the squad, and I think that he understands his role perfectly. Although he hasn’t always started, he has made the most of his opportunities, and is growing stronger and more confident with every game.”

The 26 year old is no newcomer to the domestic scene, as he has played for the Eagles, the Pumas and Griquas. This is also his second stint with the Free State team, and Le Roux believes that he has improved immensely.

“His decision making is so much better and he shares a great understanding with the players around him and the patterns we utilise. He’s a vastly different player to the one who first arrived on the scene in 2002.”

By Jon Cardinelli