Defence key to Cheetahs’ success

Hawies Fourie says the Cheetahs can forget about challenging for the title unless they brush up on their shoddy defensive record.

The Cheetahs finished a mediocre 11th in the 2007 competition, and there’s little doubt their defence let them down. Rassie Erasmus, who was coach at the time, experimented in the midfield with nightmarish results, and by the end of the tournament the Cheetahs had conceded 37 tries in all.

The new year sees a new coach in Naka Drotske, as well as a new philosophy and new Cheetahs combination. The loss of many senior players has forced a reshuffle to the Cheetahs backs with Jacques-Louis Potgieter the new pivot and JW Jonker starting at centre. Backline coach Fourie believes the central franchise have the right mix to limit the opposition’s attack this weekend.

“Defence was an aspect we as coaches looked at given our terrible record in last year’s competition,” he told keo.co.za. “Obviously you can’t expect to get too far when you concede that many tries.”

The performance of Potgieter will come under scrutiny against the Lions this weekend. The former Bulls pivot is credited with a fine attacking game, but his kicking is not as good as Conrad Barnard’s raising the question why the Cheetahs would field anything less than a sharpshooter in such a vital fixture.

“Pottie is a very confident guy and I’ve no doubt he’ll do well. He’s relishing the opportunity to start after being sidelined by the Bulls for so long, so I’m sure he’ll be keen to prove a point.

“Having a scrumhalf of Noel Oelschig’s ability did help the decision of including Pottie. Noel has a very strong kicking game and is very good at taking the pressure off his flyhalf. If we didn’t have someone of Noel’s ability we might have gone with Conrad Barnard at 10.”

The Cheetahs have experimented with various midfield combinations, but the management believe Jonker is the perfect foil to Meyer Bosman. Despire his youth, Jonker is entrusted with keeping the elusive Jaco Pretorius in check on Saturday. To say the Lions are gunning for Jonker and Potgieter would be an understatement, but the central franchise will be adequately prepared.

“If I was in the same position,I’d definitely target them,” said Fourie. “Jaco Pretorius has been in great form for them in the pre-season, but a guy like JW has stood his ground against Waylon Murray in the warm-up match against the Sharks. It is very encouraging.”

Under Drotske and Fourie, the Cheetahs embraced a less structured game in the Currie Cup. Backline players were encouraged to play the situation rather than adhere to structure, and this is something that will be carried through to the regional competition.

“We were happy with the way things went and we are hoping to extend it into the Super 14,” said Fourie. “Why change what’s working? The players enjoy it as well, but it’s important to keep a balance. We expect players to take opportunities and try new things but there are times when you need to trust in structure.”

By Jon Cardinelli