Unlike last year, when the Cheetahs’ defence was key to them reaching the Super Rugby play-offs for the first time, this season they have slipped tackles at an alarming rate. In the first two Australasian tour matches – defeats to the Rebels and Reds – the Cheetahs’ tackle success rate has dropped as low as 80 percent.
Against the Rebels (a 14-35 loss) the men from Bloemfontein missed 42 tackles and this past weekend against the Reds (a 33-43 defeat) it has ‘improved’ to 14 missed tackles. Drotské is adamant it has nothing to do with their defensive system, but rather their inability to retain possession on attack.
“I don’t agree with that statement [that our defence is poor],” Drotské told this website in an interview from the team’s training base on the Australia Gold Coast – where they are preparing before flying to New Zealand on Thursday ahead of Saturday’s encounter with the Hurricanes in Wellington. “The problem is that we can’t seem to take the ball through three or four phases on attack,” the Cheetahs mentor said, adding: “That resulted in us ending up defending for 70 percent of the time in games.
“I, personally, feel we have to focus more on getting our attack right. “Against the Rebels four of the five tries that were scored against us were from turnovers, after we had the ball on attack.” Statistics seem to support Drotské’s argument – against the Rebels they conceded 24 turnovers and last week against the Reds 18. “Last year was very different, when we managed to retain the ball through eight, nine or 10 phases – that is how we scored our tries.
“We are putting pressure on our defensive system with the way we attack. “We simply can’t retain possession through four or five phases.” The Cheetahs mentor said that through a combination of “hard work and a mental shift” they will rectify the problem. “In the past we have always been a team that did not start well,” he told this website, adding: “Last year we lost to the Sharks in Bloemfontein and then lost 3-45 to the Chiefs. “We managed to turn that around [and reached the play-offs] – it is important to again do it this year.”
The Cheetahs have n additional injury concerns and no players doubtful for the encounter with the Hurricanes. Flyhalf Johan Goosen, who was replaced on the hour mark, is not carrying any after-effects of his recent injuries and the coach said he was 100 percent fine to play. However, they have yet to hear how long Springbok prop Coenie Oosthuizen will be sidelined for, after returning home last week with his third neck injury in as many years.
“We are still waiting for Coenie [Oosthuizen] to go see [specialist] Dan Hugo,” the coach said, adding: “He hasn’t been able to get an appointment, so we don’t know what the situation is.”
By Jan de Koning