Already out of Super Rugby‚ the Cheetahs were resigned to playing a Currie Cup promotion/relegation match in the 2018 season.
Their restorative powers were there for all to see this season as they topped the points table and went on to win the grand old trophy with their 31-28 triumph over the plucky Golden Lions in the final on Saturday.
“They wanted to win this‚” noted outgoing coach Franco Smith.
“We came for a promotion/relegation game last year and we worked our way back. This was an important brick in the wall that we are building again.
“Last year we started all over with a lot of guys leaving. We gave ourselves objectives and we said it would take time. Winning the Currie Cup is one of the special things that can happen to a player‚” Smith said.
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Captain Tian Meyer explained the gravity of the situation that faced them in 2018.
“It is also our livelihood. A year ago it was difficult. The company was under pressure and the way everybody pulled together made a difference. From the marketing team [to] security‚ it doesn’t matter what job you have, people care for you.
“It is not just the team who won this but the entire company that won the Currie Cup. I’m just happy and grateful for everyone here that we could pull it [off].”
The fact that they were on the brink of oblivion galvanised the Cheetahs. It showed in their come-from-behind wins this season.
“We were behind in those matches. It was not an ability issue‚ but mentality. Maybe that has to change and maybe that shows what the Currie Cup meant to these players‚” Smith said.
In the final they built what looked to be an unassailable lead before the Golden Lions rallied.
“They threw everything at us. There was a trend developing. From the Western Province game and the Sharks in the semis, these guys don’t want to disappoint‚” the coach said.
It was also a personal triumph for Smith who will be joining Italy as their head coach at end-2019.
“They can look forward to the Pro 14‚” Smith said.
Golden Lions captain Ross Cronjé also gave them the thumbs up for their European commitments.
“They’ve got the players to do well in the Pro 14. They showed it in the final with their mauling. And stopping our maul.
“That’s where they are very strong and I think that was one of the differences between the sides. Obviously in the northern hemisphere that is very important‚” Cronjé said.