Currie Cup

Cheetahs chief pens open letter to fans: 'There is hope, opportunities'

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Carl Wegner (Gallo Images)
Carl Wegner (Gallo Images)

Cheetahs chairperson Ryno Opperman has penned an open letter to fans, ensuring them there is hope for the future.

In the letter, posted on the Cheetahs' official website, Opperman also confirmed that the franchise was in negotiations about joining the Intercontinental Shield competition in Europe.

It's been a tough time of late for the Cheetahs, who learnt earlier in the year that they would not form part of an expanded PRO16 tournament in Europe.

This came after SA Rugby indicated that the Bulls, Lions, Sharks and Stormers would be the country's preferred choices in an expanded PRO Rugby event.

The Cheetahs, along with the Southern Kings, had participated in the PRO14 since 2017.

The Intercontinental Shield is believed to kick off in October next year and the Cheetahs will know in February if their application to take part has been accepted.

But Opperman urged fans to keep the faith in a letter penned earlier this week.

It reads: "Free State Rugby is currently experiencing some of its most daunting challenges in its 125 years of existence. The disruption in rugby caused by the Covid-19 pandemic was made much worse by SA Rugby ousting the Cheetahs from PRO16 - during the lockdown and amidst great uncertainty.

"In addition, several of our top players, amongst whom Joseph Dweba, Ox Nche, Walt Steenkamp, Sintu Manjezi, Benhard Janse van Rensburg and Luan de Bruin, departed because the current rugby competitions coincided with the expiry of their contracts.   

"Ironically, Manjezi and Steenkamp were the Bulls’ lock-pairing against the Toyota Cheetahs in their most recent game, while eleven of the Cheetahs who beat the Bulls two months ago, suffered injuries. Amongst them was our experienced captain, Ruan Pienaar, who will hopefully be available again before the end of the year. In addition to these eleven, contracted players such as Wilmar Arnoldi, Aranos Coetzee, Hencus van Wyk, Reniel Hugo and Oupa Mohoje, were out of action for most of the season due to injuries.

"It is important, however, to retain perspective, hope, courage and to shape our own destiny in adverse times. There is hope and there are opportunities.

"As a former Free State player, I know how tough the game is, even in 'good times'. Every club and franchise will experience successes, 'normal' years, slumps and disastrous times. Of course, we all love success, but that never lasts forever. In tough times, it is easy for critics and fair-weather friends to blame players, the coach and management. Loyal supporters, and, fortunately, they are the majority, stand by their team, knowing the wheel will turn. We value your support!

"The Cheetahs are professional rugby players. We understand their pressures and general uncertainty. Professionals are, however, truly tested in tough times. They know they have to stay focused, perform despite uncertainty, and help their team to improve its position on the log.  

"Amidst the turmoil, our managing director, Mr Harold Verster, and coach, Hawies Fourie, have been subjected to undeserved criticism. Managing a rugby franchise, keeping it financially afloat, dealing with staff, players, sponsors, supporters and other stakeholders and managing a large stadium, can be a tough and thankless job. Coaches have to dig deep when they lose players through transfers and injuries. They have to stay motivated and lead their troops into battle.

"The Board of Directors of the Cheetahs express their full confidence in its MD and coach and value their contribution under pressure.  It is for this reason that the Board has specifically asked Mr Verster to stay on after his planned retirement. This was not his choice or request. We are grateful to him for staying on. In uncertain times like these, experience and stability are needed.

"Free State is a strong rugby entity that has overcome many challenges. I value the support and leadership of the president of Free State Rugby Union, Mr Jerry Segwaba. He, I, the management and players will stay focused to do our level best for the game and team we all love. We still have the greatly appreciated support of our naming sponsor Toyota.

"Our leadership team is negotiating right now at the highest level about international and local rugby competitions, financial matters, revenue and broadcast rights. You have heard this before, but these negotiations involve many parties, here and overseas. They are complex, confidential and sometimes sensitive until a firm deal is concluded.  We would dearly love to keep you informed, but it is unfortunately not possible as it may jeopardise potentially beneficial contracts.

"You have probably seen that we have applied to play in an international competition starting in October 2021 in Europe with the potential to grow. There is also the Currie Cup as well as another local competition, test matches and the possibility that the Springboks will train in Bloemfontein for the test series against the British and Irish Lions.

"The Cheetahs are working closely with Saru's Director of Rugby, Rassie Erasmus, who has strong Free State roots.  He is advising us on positive, interesting and creative options for the future.

"Thank you for your support and understanding."

The Cheetahs, who are currently fifth on the Currie Cup standings, tackle the Pumas in Nelspruit on Friday evening.

Kick-off at Mbombela Stadium is at 19:00.

Teams:

Pumas

15 Tapiwa Mafura, 14 Etienne Taljaard, 13 Erich Cronje, 12 Ali Mgijima, 11 Luther Obi, 10 Devon Williams, 9 Chriswill September, 8 Willie Engelbrecht, 7 Phumzile Maqondwana, 6 Daniel Maartins, 5 Pieter Jansen van Vuuren (captain), 4 Le Roux Roets, 3 Ignatius Prinsloo, 2 Simon Westraadt, 1 Morgan Naude.

Substitutes: 16 Abraham le Roux, 17 Dewalt Maritz, 18 Wikus Groenewald, 19 Darrien Landsberg, 20 Ewart Potgieter, 21 Ginter Smuts, 22 Tiaan Botes, 23 Wayne van der Bank

Cheetahs

15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Duncan Saal, 13 Dries Swanepoel, 12 Howard Mnisi, 11 William Small-Smith, 10 Frans Steyn, 9 Ruben de Haas, 8 Jeandre Rudolph, 7 Aidon Davis, 6 Andisa Ntsila, 5 Reniel Hugo, 4 Carl Wagner (captain), 3 Khutha Mchunu, 2 Marnus van der Merwe, 1 Boan Venter

Substitutes: 16 Louis van der Westhuizen, 17 Cameron Dawson, 18 Erich de Jager, 19 Oupa Mohoje, 20 Chris Massyn, 21 Tian Meyer, 22 Reinhardt Fortuin, 23 Rhyno Smith

- Compiled by Sport24 staff

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