PRO14

PRO14 restart: How the Cheetahs and Kings are shaping up

PRO14 action between the Southern Kings and Connacht at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth on 1 March 2020.
PRO14 action between the Southern Kings and Connacht at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth on 1 March 2020.
Michael Sheehan/Getty Images
  • PRO14 restart puts the two SA franchises in a precarious position, after plenty of player movement during the Covid-19 break.
  • Although they lost key players Sintu Manjezi, Walt Steenkamp and Joseph Dweba, the Cheetahs have brought in Carl Wegner, Reniel Hugo and Ian Groenewald.
  • The Kings are in a dire state, after mother body SA Rugby assumed control of the administration of the franchise.

PRO14 is set for a comeback on 22 August, it was announced last week, but how are the two South African teams in the competition, the Cheetahs and Southern Kings, shaping up ahead of the planned restart? 

Sport24 senior sports writers Heinz Schenk and Sibusiso Mjikeliso investigate:

Cheetahs

General outlook:

Ironically, the men from Bloemfontein won't be too keen on a resumption of the current campaign.

Even though the proposed focus on two rounds of derbies in August would suit them, the Cheetahs could argue that sneaking into the playoffs with two potential victories against the Kings would feel hollow and, in all honesty, futile.

If international travel is still banned at the time, they wouldn't be able to pitch up for any knockout games anyway.

Drawing a line under the current campaign would not only eliminate unnecessary logistical hurdles, it would also provide comfort.

They had to contend with head coach Hawies Fourie only commencing his duties after the season started due to health issues, while also frustrating themselves by throwing away an excellent start to the campaign.

Surely, it would be better to prepare for 2020/21 now with more certainty and stability.

Players:

When it comes to the Cheetahs' current player base, it's a distinct glass half-full or half-empty situation.

The backline now boasts considerable depth, especially with the addition of Frans Steyn, Rosko Specman and Howard Mnisi.

They also deserve plaudits for compensating for the considerable loss of star locks Sintu Manjezi and Walt Steenkamp to the Bulls by welcoming back Carl Wegner, Reniel Hugo and Ian Groenewald.

The trio might not be considered glamorous, but they're hardworking and experienced.

Jeandre Rudolph will also be keen to continue his rise by breaking into the starting XV at flank.

However, the Cheetahs still haven't addressed their longstanding problem of a lack of oomph up front.

Chucky van der Westhuizen still has to prove himself as a suitable replacement for Joseph Dweba, while a lack of deputies to replace props Charles Marais and Aranos Coetzee remain a concern.

With such a gifted backline to exploit, it would be a pity if the Cheetahs fail to do that due to the lack of a solid platform. 

Coaches:

The Covid-19 pandemic was a blessing in disguise for Fourie, who can now properly kickstart his tenure as head coach.

A teething health setback meant he had to ask Franco Smith, his predecessor, to stand in. It also meant that Fourie had virtually no pre-season to familiarise himself with the players, translating into a poor run of form.

He then had to deal with transfer sagas involving two of his stars in Dweba and Manjezi.

All in all, Fourie deserved a period just to catch his breath.

With a compact coaching staff in Corniel van Zyl, Melusi Mthethwa, Charl Strydom, Albert Keuris and Johan Rourke still in place, the Cheetahs have no reason not to be more accustomed to their new playing system.

The recruitment of Maties conditioning guru Quintin Kruger has also proved valuable.

Kings

General outlook:

The Kings are in dire shape. If PRO14 was starting tomorrow, they wouldn't know where to begin to assemble a competitive match 23.

After it was confirmed SA Rugby would assume control of the beleaguered franchise, administrator Monde Tabata will be hard at work trying to put the wheels back on the rails.

But it won't be an easy job, especially with the return to play so imminent. Hamstringing his efforts will be the presence of director of rugby Robbi Kempson, who has two more years to run on the contract he signed last year.

Kempson oversaw the team on the playing side, in the continued absence of a head coach, and much of the contracting and management side as well. The results were calamitous defeats to Munster (68-3), Edinburgh (61-13) and the Cheetahs (45-0), to name a few.

They need a quick administration clean-up, which might just be outside SA Rugby's capabilities, who are also juggling rugby's return-to-play government protocols.

Players:

This is where things take a turn for the worst for the Port Elizabeth-based team. After Demetri Catrakilis retired, they will be without Schalk Ferreira, Sarel Pretorius and Rossouw de Klerk, whose contracts have not been renewed.

Moreover, they lost experienced and dynamic centre Mnisi to the Cheetahs during the 21-day transfer window. Strangely, Masixole Banda, their fulcrum point-scorer during the previous two PRO14 seasons, who plays both at 10 and 15, could also be shown the door.

There are also a number of players who've asked to be released from their contracts, perhaps due to the uncertainty surrounding the franchise's ability to pay salaries.

A serious scouting mission and some very persuasive negotiating will be needed to convince players from other unions to join them.

Coaches:

If they have any chance of bowing out of this year’s competition with grace, assistant coach Vuyo Zangqa would need to be handed the head coach keys, until the vacancy is filled.

And he would need to be given some autonomy from his bosses in order to drill the players back into shape, plus the support of the other assistant coach, Braam van Straaten, to do it.

On top of that, it would not be a bad idea to rope in former Springbok Deon Kayser as a skills consultant and to look at the Border region for coaches such as David Dobela and Ludwe Booi to quickly whip the forwards into shape.

Kayser was recently brought in as Eastern Province selector and will be itching to get his hands dirty on the coaching field again after his time at the Sharks Academy ended last year.

SA Rugby might need to dust off their old Mobi Unit and bring in some of their own coaching experts to help the Kings from slumping further into ignominy.

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