Super Rugby Review: Cheetahs

Date published: July 19 2016

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With the Super Rugby quarter-finalists now decided, we take a look at those teams who missed out. Next up, the Cheetahs.

The more things change, the more they stay the same, or so they say. Never has the old cliché rang more true than for the Cheetahs' 2016 Super Rugby season. 

Former Cheetahs playmaker Franco Smith took over from Naka Drotské as Head Coach at the tail end of the 2015 season and it was hoped the former Treviso coach would use his experience to shore up the rickety Cheetahs ship. 

Having seen the Cheetahs reach the play-offs in 2013 thanks to a much-improved defence, many fans hoped that Smith would look to the lessons of the past and make the necessary adjustments to the team that finished second last the following year and 12th in 2015.

But it seems little has changed. The Free Staters continue to be a sure bet for a action-packed fixture every weekend – no matter the opposition – as their ambition to run the ball from all over the shop remains one of the few consistent features of the their game.

Being ambitious doesn't necessary mean you have to be poor on defence, but the Cheetahs are masters of missing tackles and handing over possession.

Their tackle success rate this season stands at just 82.5 percent. Perhaps more tellingly, their ruck success is the worst in the tournament. Coughing up possession at the breakdown is killer for any team and the Cheetahs have been punished time and again for not looking after the ball. 

They were the worst team in Super Rugby in terms of handling errors and only the Bulls conceded more penalties.

Despite strong set-piece performances in the closing rounds, they also had the worst scrum success rate in tournament. Another old rugby saying goes: "No scrum, no win."

The Cheetahs won just four games in 2016 – twice against the Sunwolves to go with home wins against the lowly Force and Kings.

One of the few highlights of the season was their record-setting 92-17 victory over the Sunwolves in Bloemfontein, when they tied the Crusaders' tournament record of scoring 14 tries in a single game. 

There were many more lowlights however, including a winless tour of Australia and an opening-round loss at home to the Jaguares.

It's hard to see how things will get much better for the Cheetahs in the near future as the perennial player-drain to richer unions has already started, headlined by the departure of Lood de Jager to the Bulls.

It's especially bad news when considering that 'lineouts won on own throw' was the only stat category that the Cheetahs topped this year.

Best player: Hooker Torsten van Jaarsveld and centre Francois Venter had good seasons but winger Sergeal Petersen was the star of the show more often than not. With nine tries to his tally this term, the speedster finished the season just two behind chart-topping Israel Folau. Blessed with the gift of pure speed, he was rewarded for his efforts with a cap for the South Africa 'A' side against the England Saxons in June. 

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