Naka Drotske says that while the Cheetahs boast a potent attack, they will have to be more competent on defence if they hope to finish the 2012 competition in the top six.
The Cheetahs were the best attacking side in the South African conference last season in terms of tries scored. With a tally of 44 over the course of 16 games, they were also the fourth most prolific try-scoring side overall behind the Waratahs (48), Crusaders (46) and Reds (45).
Unfortunately their overly attacking mindset did compromise other areas of their game. They conceded the second most tries (49) during the league stage, a poor record that was second only to the Melbourne Rebels, Super Rugby’s hapless newcomers. They may have recorded some memorable victories but their style of play was too inconsistent, and somewhat predictably they finished 11th on the overall log.
Drotske is determined to better this record and see the central franchise finish in the top six this season. The Cheetahs coach believes that an improvement on defence will allow his charges to reach their ambitious goal. For the Cheetahs to realise that ambition, they would have to record their best finish in the tournament’s history.
‘The Cheetahs’ expansive approach always sees us do well on on attack, but we really struggled with defence last season,’ Drotske said. ‘Our focus heading into the new campaign is to place the same intensity on both.
‘We conceded more tries than we scored, and we can’t expect to win if that happens. Our goal is to finish in the top six, and if we play to our potential, we can do it. In 2011, we lost seven of our first eight games. We have to start much better.’
A balanced approach has eluded the Cheetahs for some time, and what will make their task even more difficult is the loss of key players. Attacking virtuoso Sarel Pretorius will represent the Waratahs this year, while Riaan Viljoen, a crucial part of their kicking game, is at the Sharks.
What will help their cause is the fitness of Springbok flankers Juan Smith and Heinrich Brussow. Smith will miss the pre-season match against the Eastern Province Kings as well as the games against the Stormers and Lions at Newlands in the coming weeks, but the Cheetahs’ management is hopeful that the inspirational blindside will feature during the early stages of the Super Rugby tournament itself.
Having Smith in the mix would certainly bolster their forward defence, but the Cheetahs will also realise that midfield has been a big problem area over the years. If they don’t address these issues in the pre-season and establish a strong centre combination they may finish the season as also-rans once again.
By Jon Cardinelli