- Cheetahs are odds-on favorites to win their first title since 2016 with a packed crowd expected in their home stadium.
The Toyota Cheetahs don’t see themselves facing the Xerox Golden Lions this weekend in the Currie Cup final, but rather they believe they are facing themselves.
This bit of sports psychology is driving the team forward as they look to give coach Franco Smith a good farewell in his final game before he heads to take up the Italian national team coaching job after the World Cup.
The Cheetahs are odds-on favorites to win their first title since 2016 with a packed crowd expected in their home stadium, but Smith knows that the team needs to perform to their own standards, and that, as the cliché goes, will take care of the scoreline.
“We aren’t playing against the Lions, we are playing against ourselves,” Smith explained.
“We said from the beginning the standards we set ourselves are the most important. I think we can play a lot better for longer periods. We had some good periods of play in this competition and we are starting to mature.
“We look like a team that is gelling and for us, it is another game, there is an entire Pro14 competition ahead and there is a lot of improvement from the side. We aren’t going to put unnecessary pressure on ourselves because it is a final. It really is that we need to be the best we can be, and that will complement our processes and that will help us win,” he noted.
Smith isn’t changing too much this week but believes the team does need to sharpen up for the challenge that awaits.
“We need to manage the guys well; we need to feed the organism. We need to sharpen up but if we change the way we do things, it can also lead to a negative. Last week already we ran a final week, it is the same this week. There are no bumps and bruises and everyone is available for training – miraculously. Usually, in the final week of a season you have injuries. We are good to go, everyone is here, and we are just going to keep on doing what we are doing.
“We’ve trained from the first day to be in a final, so there is no need to change much,” he added.
While they lost their league game in Bloemfontein to the Lions earlier in the season, Smith believes the team is a lot better this time around, especially as they back their own “processes” no matter what the scoreline is. This was on display when they were 20-11 behind at halftime against the Sharks but surged in the second half to record a big victory and a place in the final.
“What was disappointing in that game is that the penalty count at halftime was 6-2 in the favour of the Lions. In the second half the picture changed a bit, and we knew we needed to stay disciplined and keep on executing our game. I think we felt pressure towards the end of that game to win and not to keep to the processes,” Smith pointed out.
“We got nervous, we won two in a row before and suddenly the score was tight. I think it was a different situation to what we are in now. Both teams are going to come out and play to win. We have our processes and plan and we have to stick to them.”
But more than that, Smith wants the players to enjoy the week.
Currie Cup finals don’t come around often and he believes they should enjoy the “privilege” they have worked for.
“We are really excited. To work hard and to get into this position is a privilege and a reward. It sounds like the tickets are selling well. It was one of our missions to try and get the stadium full again and we are excited to be able to exhibit our brand again.
“There is a real good vibe, excitement – and that is important. These type of games are the main ingredient in our way forward in the Pro14. We know what it is about and what success can bring,” Smith said.