If they click on the day, the French of SA Rugby (Cheetahs) can beat anyone.
Speaking exclusively to Peter Murison from Rugby365.com, Free State Cheetahs star Corné Uys chats openly about his comeback season, the Cheetahs’ unbelievable campaign, and previews this weekend’s Currie Cup Final clash with the Bulls.
The 27-year-old outside centre has made a remarkable return to professional rugby after missing an entire year in 2008 because of a serious injury and now, after a long and hard season, finds himself preparing for the biggest match of his career.
“Last season, tearing my crucial ligaments, with a bit of my medial and some cartlidge [as well], that was quite a big thing for me,” he says casually.
“It was quite a big setback but a lot of credit must go to Hawies Fourie. He lured me to the Cheetahs and backed me all the way.
“[Obviously] it was tough starting the Super 14 after a year out. [It takes time] getting the confidence back but guys like Hawies have been backing me and playing me.
“I’m pleased, my form has been improving throughout the season, Meyer [Bosman] and I have been clicking nicely so hopefully I can carry that through to the Final [this weekend],” he told rugby365.
The Cheetahs of course recorded a dramatic 23-21 upset victory over the Sharks in the semifinal in Durban last weekend and are full of condifence heading into Saturday’s showpiece event in Pretoria.
“It’s a nice buzz within the squad at the moment – and obviously everyone is very excited [about the final] and looking forward to it.”
While some have been critical of the extra week’s break between the semifinal and the Final Uys insists that the decision has both pros and cons for the teams involved.
“It would have been nice to carry the momentum through from the Sharks game, but we’ve had a full week of practice, kept every thing the same, so there is almost added excitement now.
“I don’t think it has made that much of a difference [to the preparation of either side].
“Everybody is just looking forward to getting out on the pitch and giving it a full go.”
Taking the long way round to the Final, the Cheetahs started the Currie Cup season with four straight defeats and ultimately only made it through to the play-offs ahead of Griquas thanks to their superior point’s difference.
Looking back on the season as a whole, Uys admits it has been an extraordinary journey.
Perhaps fittingly though, the match which really sparked Naka Droské’s sides fightback was their clash with the Bulls in Bloemfontein on August 7. Recording a 24-15 victory in front of their home fans, the Free State side rediscovered their belief and have not looked back since.
“I think it is difficult to pinpoint exactly one thing [which caused the turnaround], I think it was a combination of stuff.
“We lost four games [in a row] but then we played the Bulls at home and at some stage we almost began to become desperate.
“I think winning that game just gave the players the confidence they needed. Coming out of the Super 14, where we didn’t really perform that well, the guys confidence was always on a low and losing the first couple of games didn’t help at all.
“Beating the Bulls really gave us the confidence we needed – we then had a good game against the Leopards and then another against Boland – the guys had their tails up.
“We had some great guidance for Adriaan Strauss at that time, and then Nico Breedt, and the coaches just remained calm, sticking with the team.”
Despite it being a Final weekend, the Cheetahs are refusing to allow themselves to become too concerned with the event and forget about the game.
Having found a formula which works for them, Uys and his teammates are going about their preparations as per normal and seem more than happy to heave the weight of expectation onto the Bulls.
“We’re just trying to stick with what we are used to and going through a normal routine. We’re not looking to put any extra pressure on ourselves with it being a final weekend.
“I think the Bulls are obviously under pressure, being at home, playing in front of their home crowd and with everyone expecting them to win – we’re sticking to what we feel comfortable with,” explained the former Maties student.
“The Bulls are obviously the overwhelming favourites, especially being at Loftus.
“There aren’t too many weakness [in the Bulls] to talk about but we’ll definitely go in there with a game plan in mind.”
So can the Cheetahs beat the odds? “If we turn it on and if we click we can beat anyone in the country – we’re quietly confident.”
Blessed with a huge contingent of international players in their lineup, the Bulls offer a test unlike any other in the domestic game. It is that challenge though which Uys insists makes this weekend’s clash all the more exciting.
Centre partners Uys and Bosman have been a consistent combination for the Cheetahs this season. Combining well and providing the perfect compliment to the players either side of them, the duo will once again need to be at their best this weekend if they are to get the edge on their opposite numbers.
“There are a lot of challenges and [individual] competitions going on but especially for me and Meyer [Bosman] it will be a big challenge up against Wynand [Olivier] and Jaco [Petrorius].
“They are both good players and Springboks but Meyer and myself have been going well the last couple of games and I’ve got the utmost confidence that we’ll be up for it again this weekend.”