Ross Roche

By Ross Roche

Senior sports writer

Cheetahs target fast start against Pumas in Currie Cup final

A fast start will be key for the Cheetahs to gain the upper hand over a team that is known for their strong starts.

The Cheetahs and Pumas are all set to put on a grand show to close out the South African franchise rugby season when they battle it out in the Currie Cup final at the Free State Stadium on Saturday (kick-off 4pm).

The two teams are set for a repeat of the 2022 semi-final when the Pumas upset the Cheetahs on their way to an inaugural title, so this time the hosts will be keen for a bit of revenge.

ALSO READ: Currie Cup final will define our season says Cheetahs’ Hawies Fourie

The Pumas have the edge over the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein having won their last three games there, but the Cheetahs won their most recent encounter in Mbombela and head into the game with plenty of confidence.

“I don’t really count the game (earlier this season in Bloemfontein) when we (the first-choice team) were playing Toulon in France. We had 25 players over there, so we had to pull in some club players and U21s to make a team and the Pumas managed a big win,” said Cheetahs coach Hawies Fourie.

“Last year we lost to them by a point (in the pool stage) here in Bloem. And then in the semi-final we were leading by 10 or 11 points and they scored two tries in the last 10 minutes to win the game. So it is always close between us and it should be the same on Saturday.”

Fast start

A fast start will be key for the Cheetahs to gain the upper hand over a team that is known for their strong starts, but whether the home side can get off to one is another matter.

Despite their two wins over the Bulls over the past two weekends, they were contrasting starts with the Cheetahs having to battle back from a big early deficit in Pretoria to win, while they got off to a great start in their big semi-final win at home last weekend.

“It will be important for us to get ahead early in the game. The Pumas have a tendency to start well and play very good rugby in that first 20 minutes and apply a lot of pressure on their opponents,” admitted Fourie.

“They were 12-0 up after about 10 or 12 minutes against the Sharks in that semi-final and they couldn’t recover and pull the game back. So that’s part of how they do things and it’s working for the Pumas.

“Luckily we have got a tendency to pull it back in the second half. I wouldn’t like it to be the case again but if we need to we have done it quite a lot this year.

“So we have a very good record in the second half. But the focus for us is to start well, get ahead of them on the scoreboard and apply some scoreboard pressure from the first minute.”

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