Cheetahs CEO Harold Verster blames the lengthy 2012 schedule for the team’s struggles in this year’s Currie Cup.
The Free State Cheetahs’ 36-15 loss to WP at Newlands last weekend saw them finish last on the log. It was the four-time champions’ worst domestic campaign in the modern era.
The Bloemfontein union will now face off against First Division champions the EP Kings in promotion-relegation play-offs over the next fortnight.
Verster believes a long, toiling season has been the crux of their Currie Cup woes as the tournament followed the Vodacom Cup and Super Rugby, and ran during the Rugby Championship.
The squad lost 13 players to injury during the domestic competition. These include three Springboks over the last fortnight in flank Heinrich Brussow, flyhalf Johan Goosen and prop Coenie Oosthuizen.
It’s also been confirmed that Oosthuizen’s latest injury will rule him out of the Bok end-of-year tour. He joins Brussow and Goosen for a lengthy spell on the sidelines.
‘Any team with that kind of injury crisis would struggle in the Currie Cup,’ an angered Verster told keo.co.za. ‘The year has too many fixtures, and it’s the cause for all these injuries. The season structure needs a relook.
‘Even the Wallabies are struggling on the Test scene as many of their top players are injured. It’s a general and clear belief that the season is too long.
‘But we’ll head into the promotion-relegation play-offs with no excuses. The Kings have been very impressive in the First Division and will be a challenge, but we’ll need to stand up and show our worth over the next two weeks.’
While Premier Division teams have generally dominated promotion-relegation play-offs against First Division unions in recent years, the Kings will fancy their chances against a weakened Cheetahs outfit.
The Kings have been in good form as they enjoyed an unbeaten run to the First Division title.
The Eastern Cape franchise will also threaten the Cheetahs’ Super Rugby status next season. Those two teams are most likely to finish last in the South African conference.
The local franchise that suffers the wooden spoon will face off against the Lions in promotion-relegation play-offs for the 2014 Super Rugby campaign.
However, Verster believes Super Rugby will be a different battle.
‘We will be in a better position to be competitive,’ he said. ‘We should have all our players back from injury. We should have the likes of Heinrich, Coenie and Johan all fully fit and featuring for us from the opening rounds.’
By Gareth Duncan