Currie Cup

Rassie working 'tirelessly' with Cheetahs, questions franchise being 'orphaned'

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Rassie Erasmus (Gallo)
Rassie Erasmus (Gallo)
  • Rassie Erasmus has assured all that SA Rugby has not left the Cheetahs out in the cold following their expulsion from the PRO16.
  • The national director of rugby reiterated official communication from the central franchise itself that the two parties are working "tirelessly" to find the team a new competition home.
  • Erasmus said he also wanted rugby folk to know that it wasn't SA Rugby's executive leadership that decided to vote the Cheetahs out of PRO Rugby.

Rassie Erasmus has reiterated that his department within SA Rugby is doing everything it can to help the Cheetahs stay competitive following their expulsion from the PRO16.

The future of the central franchise was dumped into uncertainty again following a weekend report claiming that senior player Ruan Pienaar and William Small-Smith, along with mental coach Ruan Botha had approached several local businesses to encourage them to invest.

Yet Ryno Opperman, the Cheetahs' chairperson, emphatically denied that the franchise now finds itself in a position where it's "begging for money".

"The report creates the impression that the Cheetahs' financial position is so dire that players have to beg for external money. It's simply not true," he said in a statement.

"Players are contracted to play rugby and not to become involved in management. Nobody underestimates the disruption due to Covid-19 and the resulting economic and financial pressure.

"Free State Rugby has existed for more than 125 years and has weathered many crises. The good news is that the Cheetahs is still a very popular brand."

Instead, Opperman stated that the franchise has been working "tirelessly" with SA Rugby and "potential investors" in terms of acquiring capital and a competitive competition to play in.

Erasmus confirmed that spirit of co-operation.

"With regard to the Cheetahs, I'm really working closely and hard with Harold Verster, Ryno and Hawies Fourie," said the national director of rugby.

"We're trying to get them into the European Intercontinental Shield. There's not much other detail because they're still in negotiations and determining what's possible."

The tournament nowadays acts as a qualifier for the distinctly more prestigious European Challenge Cup.

"If there's a breakthrough, the Cheetahs would like to announce it on their own time along with all the other factors that are relevant," said Erasmus.

"There are really nice possibilities. They can actually get into the Challenge Cup, it's a tough competition. Those are the teams that don't quite make the top four or six of their leagues but they're still very strong.

"That's the competition that Jake White won at Montpellier, it's just under the Champions Cup. We're in constant talks and trying to find them proper fixtures this year."

However, until the Cheetahs' application to join the Shield is ratified in February, various quarters of the local rugby fraternity will still perceive the franchise as being orphaned by SA Rugby.

It's a perception that Erasmus desperately wants to change, particularly the charge that he and SA Rugby chief and president, Jurie Roux and Mark Alexander, were directly involved in the decision to exclude them from PRO Rugby.

"We don't share that information enough to be honest and that creates the perception that we leave franchises out in the cold," said Erasmus.

"I say this as a guy who actually played more than 120 games for the Cheetahs and coached them - there's a process that was followed with their exclusion. At the end of the day, SA Rugby's general council has the vote on such issues and that's how teams get selected or removed. 

"When people say the (executive) leadership of SA Rugby isn’t acting in the best interests of franchises and that I’m to blame too along with Jurie and Mark, I politely just want to point out that it's not us who make those calls.

"It goes to Exco and then the council, where all 14 union presidents vote.

"When such decisions get made, we jump in and see where we can help, what competitions you can play and how to keep players. We're doing our best to help the Cheetahs get in somewhere competitively."

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