Toyota Cheetahs coach Hawies Fourie believes his team’s comprehensive 45-0 whitewash of the Isuzu Southern Kings in their Guinness PRO14 derby in Bloemfontein on Saturday was the perfect build-up for their tough tour of Ireland and Wales.
The Free Staters scored seven tries and by general consensus, could have scored even more, as they dominated the clash from the outset and emphatically erased any memories of the nail-biting encounter between the sides last week.
Isuzu Southern Kings coach Robbie Kempson acknowledged after the clash that the Toyota Cheetahs are an extremely difficult side to play at home, and this could be beneficial when they play an extended run of matches in Bloemfontein in March.
However, they first face a challenging northern hemisphere tour which starts with a visit to Leinster on Saturday, 15 February, and then clashes against Ulster and the Dragons.
Fortunately for Fourie and his charges, their two wins over their Port Elizabeth counterparts have partially made up for their unexpected defeat to Zebre early in January, and this has handed them a valuable seven-point lead over the Glasgow Warriors on their conference log.
If they win overseas they could give themselves a chance to finish second in Conference A ahead of Ulster, which will be invaluable in terms of their playoff hopes.
Fourie was delighted about their back-to-back wins against the Isuzu Southern Kings and said: “We always go onto the field with the aim of dominating possession and making the most of it, and against the Kings we made a few mistakes too many, but I still feel we have grown in confidence in the two derbies and that will help us on our next tour.
“We knew the whole week they wanted to dominate the physical stuff, but we dominated.
“Last week, particularly in the first half, they had the upper hand up front, but we turned it around later in the game. In this match I thought our forwards did really well.”
Looking back at the close call against the Isuzu Southern Kings in Port Elizabeth, Fourie reckoned his men are better off for having to fight their way back into the match and snatch the win against the odds.
“The last 10 minutes of the Port Elizabeth game was very important to our whole campaign,” said Fourie. “Had we lost there, it could have gone pear shaped for us.
“Coming back the way we did, and Ruan Pienaar slotting over the conversion to win it for us was huge for our confidence.
“As they say, a one-point win can make a huge difference for the morale. It showed what great character this side has and it really pulled the guys together.”
The coach added: “If you look at the negatives there were at least three tries we should have rounded off which we didn’t, but there were a lot of opportunities we created, which is what we have been working towards.
“We worked hard on our execution this week, but we are still not quite where we want to be and we have some work to do before we tour.”
Kempson accepted their defeat graciously, giving all the credit to the Toyota Cheetahs for their effective performance.
“The Cheetahs were very good, you have to give them credit for the way they played,” said Kempson.
“They hit us with wave after wave of attack, they were exceptional at the breakdown, and when they get that sort of momentum going they are hard to stop.
“In some areas they are very strong. One of those is the driving maul. We earmarked that as an area to work on this week, but they still managed to get over the line. I think what happened was that we gave them a fright last week, and then in the back end of that game we gave them some heart and this time they came out and hit us with their big guns.”
Toyota Cheetahs 45 (17) – Tries: Joseph Dweba (2), Chris Massyn, Jasper Wiese, Clayton Blommetjies, Rhyno Smith, Louis Fouche. Conversions: Ruan Pienaar (2), Tian Schoeman, Louis Fouche (2).
The Isuzu Southern Kings team to face the Toyota Cheetahs:
FORWARDS (1-8): Cameron Dawson, Jacques du Toit (C), Rossouw de Klerk, JC Astle, Jerry Sexton, Ruaan Lerm, Thembelani Bholi, Elrigh Louw.
BACKLINE (9-15): Theo Maree, Bader Pretorius, Erich Cronje, JT Jackson, Sibusiso Sithole, Yaw Penxe, Andell Loubser.
REPLACEMENTS (16-23): Alandre van Rooyen, Schalk Ferreira, Ig Prinsloo, Bobby de Wee, Lusanda Badiyana, Josh Allderman, Demetri Catrakilis, Howard Mnisi.