Cheetahs can win, says Plumtree

2009-10-20 00:00

HEAD coach John Plumtree, choking on the disappointment of a failed Sharks’ campaign, believes the Free Cheetahs are capable of completing one of the more remarkable comebacks in Currie Cup history by taking the title.

The Free Staters, following their last minute 23-21 victory over the Sharks in the semi-finals in Durban, meet the Blue Bulls in the final at Loftus on October 31. The Bulls were within a couple of minutes of defeat against Western Province before a pressure penalty by Morne Steyn took the Super 14 champions through to a two-point win and into the final.

The Blue Bulls and the Sharks fielded a dozen Springboks in their semi-final teams but both battled to overcome spirited opposition.

The Bulls, with another fortnight to settle, will obviously start as favourites at home but Plumtree believes the Cheetahs’ strengths in certain areas will provide them with an excellent chance of causing an upset.

“I believe the Free Staters can win the final. I said it in the week that the Cheetahs are a good side and at the breakdowns they move numbers to the contact areas. Heinrich Brussow is also exceptionally difficult to counter on the ground.

“But they also have an excellent front five, their scrum will worry the Bulls and they have dangerous runners out wide. They will be a handful in the final.”

The Free Staters have recovered from the most disastrous of Currie Cup starts to reach the final, lying last after losing their first four games, suffering a series of crippling injuries, losing their influential Bok flank Juan Smith and working their way through a series of captains before finally sneaking into fourth place on the log on points difference.

Plumtree said it was no time to make excuses for the Sharks defeat and readily conceded that the Cheetahs were worthy winners.

He admitted that he had battled to integrate the Springboks who had returned from their triumphant Tri-Nations campaign and the Bulls, to a lesser degree, suffered from the same problem.

Cheetahs coach Naka Drotske, who survived calls for his sacking earlier in the season, has every reason to feel satisfied.

He said that playing the Springbok-flavoured Bulls at Loftus would be a formidable challenge but said he would stay with the successful “winning recipe” in the final.

“It won’t be easy to beat the Bulls, but we will focus on our game because that has taken us into the final. We will concentrate on our strengths and work on our weaknesses. That is the recipe for success,” he said.

He said that “character” had been the decisive factor in the Free Staters’ success and it was certainly an element lacking from the Sharks’ tame ending to another promising campaign.

Meanwhile the Bulls have confirmed that wing Bryan Habana, who recently recovered from a hamstring strain, was replaced during the semi-final because of injury and not because of form. The Bulls are confident the Bok wing will be ready for the final.

Bulls captain and lock Victor Matfield said that it was poor lineout play by Western Province, rather than the high tackle by Sireli Naqelevuki, which allowed the Bulls to recover and win the Newlands play-off.

“We won two lineout balls which gave us the chance to get momentum again and get in their area. The one throw-in was poor and the other was at the wrong place, which allowed me to steal it,” Matfield told News24.

Matfield said he had considered his options before deciding that Steyn should kick at goal.

“Fourie (du Preez) wanted to take a quick tap to try and win another 10 metresand I thought of an attacking lineout. But Morné was certain that it was inside his range and I had no doubt about handing him the ball,” he said.

Coach Frans Ludeke was relieved that the weekend results had worked in the Bulls’ favour with the third-placed team on the log hosting the team finishing fourth (Cheetahs).

“It is a bonus for us. We were not in a good position in the series at one stage and to be able to host the final now is definitely a bonus,” said Ludeke.“We are one game away from a very special season, but it will require another big effort.”

More rugby, page 13.

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