Welsh lauds Cheetahs defence

Frikkie Welsh heaped generous praise on the Vodacom Cheetahs for the way they nullified the Vodacom Bulls’ primary attacking threats.

First- and second-phase dominance is always decisive to the outcome of a final and in this regard the Bloemfontein outfit was superior at both the lineouts and the breakdown.

The Bulls loose trio, who over the last month have been their strength, were largely anonymous when it counted most, while Gary Botha and his jumpers succumbed to the constant pressure exerted by Rory Duncan and Barend Pieterse.

Pierre Spies’ attacking prowess was stifled by solid Cheetahs defence, who allowed the mercurial 21-year-old no space to gain the momentum that has made him the bane of every opponent in the competition this season. He struggled in an unfamiliar back row combination whose breakdown deficiencies meant he had to play a lot tighter than he and the Bulls would have wanted.

“Pierre is an awesome player and he did what he had to do in the match,” Welsh told keo.co.za, refusing to single out the player for criticism.

“What we failed to do was get our ball-carrying runners into the game, which we place a huge emphasis on and which has been central to our success. We devastated [Western] Province [in the semi-final] with the intensity and pace of our runners coming off the breakdown and mauls and in so doing created holes for our backline to exploit, but we couldn’t reproduce that performance again,” he added.

Welsh attributed this to the breakdown brilliance of the Cheetahs loose trio whose blistering pace between phases meant they often beat their burly opponents to the ruck, and were subsequently able slow down or steal possession. He acknowledged the role of Kabamba Floors in this regard and described the blonde’s performance as “simply outstanding”.

“When we did get the ball to our strike runners the Cheetahs defence had already reset and there was always two or three defenders waiting for the ball carrier. Technically, they were brilliant,” Welsh said.

Bulls coach Pote Human identified the lineout as an area of their game in need of attention after the Bulls final league match against the Cheetahs at Loftus and sought the counsel of Victor Matfield, who he hoped would remedy the flaws. But the hosts were again superior at the set phase, securing their own ball and stealing or disrupting the Bulls.

Welsh stressed that Cheetahs coach Rassie Erasmus’ role in plotting their downfall should not be underrated.

“This is not a criticism of Gary [Botha] and the jumpers at all but when you are constantly under pressure on your own throw it obviously has a detrimental effect on the gameplan because that is the foundation of many attacks,” he said.

“We’ve played them a couple of times in the competition this year and Rassie has really done his homework on a facet of play that is at the heart of the Bulls success. He is so shrewd and he knew exactly how to get his locks to disrupt us and as a result we never really got going.”

Welsh added that ill-discipline and the inability to match the Cheetahs’ early intensity were decisive in the cup not returning to Pretoria.

“You can’t win a Currie Cup final playing with 14 men for twenty minutes,” he said, referring to the yellow cards incurred by Johan Roets and Dries Scholtz. “We did really well to even stay in contention as long as we did.

“They were obviously boosted by the home crowd and started with a bang. We didn’t really get into the game until the second-half and in hindsight I think that cost us.”

By Ryan Vrede