The Cheetahs have finally managed to discard the nagging self-doubt that bedevilled them in previous years and will arrive at Newlands on Saturday, for their Super 14 Round Six encounter with the Stormers, truly believing they are title contenders.
Cheetahs backline coach Hawies Fourie, speaking to rugby365.com after a break in training on Tuesday, said the big difference this year is that they have managed to make a “mental shift” and now feel they truly belong in the top flight.
“To have the right mindset is of the utmost importance,” Fourie said, adding that winning two of their first four matches of the season was vital.
Having finished 10th and lower in all four years since their arrival on the Super 14 scene in 2006, the Cheetahs lacked the confidence and as a consequence their game suffered.
“However, this year we told ourselves that we can win,” Fourie told rugby365.com, adding: “We always knew we had the talent, it was a matter of believing and trusting our systems.
“We showed in the Currie Cup over the years we can compete, but we struggled to take that same mentality into the Super Rugby arena. But this year that has changed,” he said of a season that has seen them knock over the Sharks and Hurricanes, while going down narrowly to the Highlanders.
Their only real loss was to the unbeaten, table-topping Bulls – a team that has also scored 50-points against the Highlanders and Brumbies, while putting 48 points past the Waratahs.
“It has been a major boost to our confidence that we won those games.
“In recent years we only managed our first win in Week Eight or Nine. Self doubt starts setting in and you begin to question yourself – just look at what has happened after a couple of narrow defeats by the Sharks.
“However, we travel to Newlands knowing that we still have a realistic chance of reaching the play-offs if we keep winning,” Fourie added.
The other key factor, according to Fourie, is that this year they have a settled squad.
At the end of the 2007 season their lost 14 senior players. Their most significant losses this time round were Jacques-Louis Potgieter (to the Bulls) and Richardt Strauss (to Irish province Leinster).
The Cheetahs backline coach says they owe the Stormers a beating.
Having been a bogey team for the men from the Cape for years, they have not won at Newlands since 2006 and their last Super 14 win against the Stormers was in 2007.
The other big advantage for the Cheetahs is that they have had an opportunity to properly re-asses their season, during their bye week.
They now have two games in South Africa – the Stormers in Cape Town this week and the Reds in Bloemfontein next week – before they set off on a four match Australasian tour.
And it is vital that they collect two more wins before hitting the road – where they will face the Waratahs, Brumbies, Crusaders and Chiefs on consecutive weekends.
For the statistically minded there is the not so insignificant fact that the Cheetahs have not won back-to-back games since 2006.
But Fourie is confident the refreshed Cheetahs can end that ‘drought’ in Cape Town this week.
By Jan de KoningTweet