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Cheetahs ‘celebrate’ bizarre return to Ellis Park … 1 337 days later | Sport


Hawies Fourie. (Photo by Dirk Kotze/Gallo Images)

  • Hawies Fourie and his Cheetahs will bizarrely play at Ellis Park for the first time in three seasons.
  • Freakish circumstances in 2020 and 2021 prevented them from playing there, and as a result, the excitement of a return is high. 
  • But the unbeaten Cheetahs are acutely aware of not letting sentimentality stump them, even drawing up a ‘second phase’ Currie Cup log.

Hawies Fourie will bizarrely visit Ellis Park for the first time on Friday night since becoming the Cheetahs’ head coach … way back in October 2019.

It’s been an even longer wait for the team itself: a regular season encounter of the 2018 Currie Cup in September of that year, 1 337 days ago.

Indeed, the central franchise – the only unbeaten team in this year’s Currie Cup – simply hasn’t been destined to run out onto the hallowed turf because of freakish circumstances out of their control.

In 2020, shortly after the local game resumed from Covid-19’s initial hard lockdown, their Super Rugby Unlocked match against the Lions was controversially cancelled mere hours before kick-off due to an outbreak in the hosts’ camp.

Less than a year later, their Currie Cup encounter was called off due to the Doornfontein-based stadium’s proximity to hotspots of the July unrest.

“I actually thought about that earlier this week,” Fourie admitted on Thursday.

“It’s been a really long time. It’s the first time in three seasons that we’re going to play at Ellis Park again. It’s always a great experience because it’s such an iconic stadium with an amazing history.

“It’s a privilege to play there.”

READ | Nohamba straight into the action via bench for Lions ahead of Cheetahs duel

Yet as much as there’s a bit of sentimentality around the occasion, the Cheetahs are wary of letting it distract them.

In fact, they’re acutely aware that they are facing desperate opponents who, in complete contrast to them, have lost all 7 of their fixtures.

“We decided quite a while back already that we don’t want to focus on our unbeaten status,” said Fourie. 

“Those are dangerous thoughts. It puts unnecessary extra pressure on any team. You don’t want to dwell on it because you have to assume in a competitive tournament that a defeat is inevitable.”

With various URC stalwarts in harness, the Lions also boast a considerably more balanced line-up than the youthful outfit that’s been found wanting in this campaign.

“We’re definitely also not focusing on the Lions’ log position. They might not have won a game yet, but they played really well in their previous outing against Griquas,” said Fourie.

“They were unlucky to lose that match in the dying seconds. If anything, we’re playing against a stronger outfit than that one. We’ve broken down our game-plan into compartments, determining what our objectives are for every facet.

“What’s the percentage clean ball we want out of the line-outs and scrums? What should our tackle completion rate be? We’re hoping to rather focus on those things instead of our opponents.

“Also, we’re in the second ‘part’ of the Currie Cup, so we’ve drawn up a log and find ourselves in 4th currently – even though we’ve only played once in this ‘section’ of the campaign.

“Still, it’s a good way to keep the feet on the ground. We’re unbeaten maybe, but we’re not top in this new phase of the season.”

Kick-off at Ellis Park is at 19:00.

Teams:

Lions 

15 Tiaan Swanepoel, 14 Boldwin Hansen, 13 Henco van Wyk, 12 Manny Rass, 11 Stean Pienaar, 10 Fred Zeilinga, 9 Andre Warner (captain), 8 Jarod Cairns, 7 Emmanuel Tshituka, 6 Sibusiso Sangweni, 5 Cal Smid, 4 Lunga Ncube, 3 Asenathi Ntlabakanye, 2 Jaco Visagie, 1 JP Smith

Substitutes: 16 Morne Brandon, 17 Heiko Pohlmann, 18 Jannie du Plessis, 19 Junior White, 20 Lindo Ncusane, 21 Sanele Nohamba, 22 Luke Rossouw, 23 Ilunga Mukendi

Cheetahs

15 Cohen Jasper, 14 Dan Kasende, 13 David Brits, 12 Frans Steyn, 11 Duncan Saal, 10 Rynhardt Fortuin, 9 Ruan Pienaar (captain), 8 Mihlali Mosi, 7 Jeandre Rudolph, 6 Gideon van der Merwe, 5 Victor Sekekete, 4 Aidon Davis, 3 Aranos Coetzee, 2 Marnus van der Merwe, 1 Cameron Dawson

Substitutes: 16 Louis van der Westhuizen, 17 Alulutho Tshakweni, 18 Marne Coetzee, 19 Ockie Barnard, 20 Andisa Ntsila, 21 Rewan Kruger, 22 Brandon Thomson, 23 Robert Ebersohn

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