Super Rugby: Brumbies Ready For ‘Conservative’ Cheetahs
by Paul Cook –
Was Jake White trying to lure the Cheetahs into a trap ahead of today’s Super Rugby Qualifying Final when he stated during the week that the South Africans weren’t as expansive and fluidly attacking a side as most people believe?
Like Bob Dwyer baiting England ahead of the 1991 World Cup Final by labelling them as ‘boring’ and reaping the benefits when the English bit firmly on the hook, went away from their rigid, but successful, structures and were left ruing a failed attempt to let the ball sing, White quashed any idea of the Cheetahs being the tournament’s ‘entertainers’.
“There’s this perception, it’s funny how it works, that certain teams score a lot of tries and they run from everywhere,” he said. “It’s not the case at all. I think they are probably one of the most conservative teams in the competition.”
A look at the final Super Rugby table suggests White may have a point. Finishing as only the eighth best attack in terms of points scored – equal with the 12th placed Rebels – it is their improved defence (the sixth best in the competition) that has been the backbone of their first finals qualification in the team’s history, a vast improvement on recent seasons where scoring tries wasn’t a problem, it was stopping them at the other end that was the issue.
An average scoreline of 24-22 in their favour certainly lends itself to a few nail-biting experiences for their Bloemfontein faithful (the Brumbies average score is 27-18) but won’t be sending shivers down the spine of the men from Canberra. The Cheetahs have scored 38 tries this year, less than many of the Australian and New Zealand sides and White – who would know more than most – doesn’t see them as differing from a model he is very familiar with.
“They don’t play like Australian teams, they actually play more like South African teams,” he observed. “They play exactly like the Reds and they kick as much as the Reds as well. They kick a lot, they let you play in your own half, and if you make a mistake then they pounce.”
Despite White’s assertions and the bare statistics, prop Ben Alexander says the Brumbies must still be mindful of the Cheetahs’ potency. “They’re so good at sniffing out a chance and with guys like Willie Le Roux, you always have to beware because they can put up a chip kick or just run from deep and they have a great ability to counter attack.”
What does get lost in the myth is the effectiveness of the Cheetahs pack, driven forward by captain and Springbok hooker Adriaan Strauss and containing the supreme pilfering talents of Heinrich Brussow and talented loose forward Lappies Labuschagné. A card carrying member of the front rower’s union, Alexander certainly doesn’t underestimate the importance of the players he will be fronting up with at close quarters this afternoon.
“While a lot of their backs claim the headlines, it all starts up front with the work of their forwards,” he asserts. “Their scrum’s been very good, their lineout’s been very good and their pack doesn’t miss many opportunities to capitalise. No side who makes the finals will be coming in with a poor tight five, to get that far, you have to have a pack that earns or wins enough ball to allow the backline to play and they’re no different.”
Wallaby Alexander comes into the game with a point to prove after his perceived scrum troubles in the final test against the British & Irish Lions and – alongside several fellow internationals – will be keen to exorcise some demons in search of the silverware that has eluded the Brumbies for almost 10 years.
“We haven’t had much success at all here in Canberra since 2004 and finishing second last year and going so close to a finals spot really drove the boys for this season,” he admits. “We trained hard and started the season on fire and the hunger to win this title has always been there but I guess, maybe for the guys involved in the disappointment of the Lions series loss, that hunger to succeed now is even greater.”
The last game of the regular season last Saturday saw a lacklustre display as the Brumbies went down 21-15 to a determined Western Force and Alexander admits that was a ‘wake-up call’ after a difficult post-Lions reintegration.
“It was a tough week last week coming off the back of the Lions, it was such a big event. We’d had a few guys away with the Wallabies so we hadn’t played as a group for a while but take nothing away from the Force, they played very well. We just put it behind us after the game and put all our energy and focus into this weekend and we’ll be much better for that extra week of training and playing together and thing’s have gone very well this week.
“The energy levels are right up there and we’re going to need to channel all that excitement and energy into our game plan if we’re going to beat a really good Cheetahs side,” he continued. “We’re not happy with just making the finals, we have aspirations to win the title and while we’re happy to have got here, we wont be satisfied if we don’t make the most of the opportunity we’ve earned for ourselves. We’re back at home in front of our vocal crowd, we’re excited and we’re good to go.”
The season is over for the loser of today’s game, the winner will travel to South Africa to face the Bulls in next week’s semi-finals.
ACT Brumbies: 1. Scott Sio; 2. Stephen Moore; 3. Ben Alexander; 4. Scott Fardy; 5. Sam Carter; 6. Peter Kimlin; 7. George Smith; 8. Ben Mowen; 9. Nic White; 10. Matt To’omua; 11. Clyde Rathbone; 12. Christian Leali’ifano; 13. Tevita Kuridrani; 14. Henry Speight; 15. Jesse Mogg
Reserves: Siliva Siliva; Ruan Smith; Fotu Auelua; Colby Fainga’a; Ian Prior; Andrew Smith; Joe Tomane
Cheetahs: 1. Connie Oosthuizen; 2. Adriaan Strauss (c); 3. Lourens Adriaanse; 4. Lodewyk de Jager; 5. Ligtoring Landman; 6. Heinrich Brussow; 7. Lappies Labuschagne; 8. Philip van der Walt; 9. Piet van Zyl; 10. Riaan Smit; 11. Raymond Rhule; 12. Robert Ebersohn; 13. Johann Sadie; 14. Willie le Roux; 15. Hennie Daniller
Reserves: Ryno Barnes; Trevor Nyakane; Waltie Vermeulen; Boom Prinsloo; Sarel Pretorius; Elgar Watts; Ryno Benjamin