Cheetahs expecting tough match against Sunwolves
They did not explicitly say it, but South African side the Cheetahs will be expecting nothing less than a win when they take on the Sunwolves at the National Stadium next week, as Super Rugby action hits local shores for the first time.
Life in the newly-expanded 18-team league was always going to be tough for the Sunwolves, a brand new team who first trained together only last month.
The Japan and Singapore co-based Super Rugby side kicked off their maiden campaign with a 26-13 defeat by another South African side, the Lions, in Tokyo last week.
However, Cheetahs coach Franco Smith does not expect an easy game against the outfit co-based in Singapore.
"We have enough knowledge of the Sunwolves to know that they are a very competitive team," Smith said in a phone interview yesterday.
"There's a lot of pride in them as well and, after Japan beat South Africa (in the last Rugby World Cup), we will not allow ourselves to be surprised at all."
Smith, who also turned out for the Cheetahs as a player, said the Sunwolves play "like all the Japanese teams".
"They like to throw the ball around and play a 15-man game," he said.
Cheetahs captain Francois Venter also praised the Sunwolves for playing an "expansive" game.
"It's great that they are involved, so we can compare ourselves against them," said the 24-year-old inside-centre.
"I know the Japanese were real contenders in the World Cup; now we can see what condition they are in prior to the next World Cup."
Smith believes the Sunwolves' inclusion in the world's top rugby club competition will only help the Japanese national side as they prepare to host the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
"Playing at the top level and being involved in high-intensity games week after week improve the quality of playing," he said.
"That will assist Japan to be even more competitive going into the next World Cup."
As an example, the South African cited his coaching stint with Treviso, a professional rugby club in Italy, when they moved to the annual Pro12 competition to compete against teams from Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
"Basically, the interest level rose immediately and there was a lot more intent in rugby," he said.
"I think the same thing might happen now in Japan and also in Singapore. As soon as this international competition takes off, the interest and hype around it might influence the young kids and coaches will help to develop the game."
A sizeable Japanese support is expected to turn up for the Sunwolves' "home away from home" debut, and Venter is relishing the opportunity to play at the 55,000-seater National Stadium.
"I'm very excited to go (to Singapore); I've heard it's a wonderful place to be at," he said.
"We like to play in front of a lot of people. That's when you're most focused because nobody wants to make a mistake if everybody is watching.
"You can express yourself and enjoy the game. It's going to be a positive experience."
The ones to watch
Rugby fans in Singapore are in for a treat when Super Rugby side the Cheetahs clash with new Japanese franchise the Sunwolves at the National Stadium next week.
There will be a glut of talent on display as both sides look to improve on their results following home defeats in their season openers.
While the Cheetahs next host the Stormers tomorrow, the Sunwolves have an extra week of rest, courtesy of a bye.
Cheetahs coach Franco Smith singles out several players who he believes can make a push for a coveted spot in the Springboks side, as the rugby powerhouses look to the next generation to propel their 2019 World Cup challenge.
"I don't like singling out players; I'm more of a team man" he said.
"But Francois Venter, Raymond Rhule, Sergeal Petersen, William Small-Smith and Shaun Venter are all names that you can look forward to seeing.
"We have an exciting backline and a bunch of young players who have a lot to learn but can develop in the next three to four years into quality Springboks."
Lood De Jager, a 23-year-old lock who played for South Africa in the last World Cup, is another man to watch in the Cheetahs squad.
- AQIL HAZIQ MAHMUD