Monday, December 12, 2005

Second Year Syndrome

The Cheetahs had a dream 2005 season. They were awarded a spot in the inaugural Super 14 competition in 2006, and they won the most coveted trophy South Africa has on offer in the domestic scene, the Currie Cup.

Given the fact it was Rassie’s first year as coach, makes it even more amazing. Cheetahs CJ can der Linde and Guthro Steenkamp came to the forefront of Springbok rugby and established themselves as leaders in their positions. Meyer Bosman’s surprise call up to the Bok squad and Juan Smit’s dream year all topped of what was a truly memorable season if you are a Cheetah supporter.

My question is: What can we expect from the orange warriors in 2006?

There are a lot of similarities that could be drawn from Jake White’s first season as Bok coach, and his subsequent approach to 2005 of what we might expect from the Cheetah’s in 2006. I believe there are a few differences though.

Obviously what I am driving to is the infamous “second year syndrome” trap the Cheetahs might fall into. They achieved quite a bit in 2005. The major thing that counted in their favour though, is that no one expected it from them. There was no pressure on the team, and even less so on Rassie.

The media left them alone to a large extend if you compare the articles we saw in papers and on the internet. That took quite a lot of pressure of them. Off course Rassie & Co had a plan, but they used the image created by the media, or the general perception regarding the team to their advantage, and it did play a major role.

No one would have called for Rassie’s head if he, let’s say finished 3rd or 4th this year. And with the Currie Cup format in 2005 anything short of a tidal wave in Parys would have prevented that. Apart from 4 players, none of the squad members were under pressure to perform or judged in the same way, as let say, the late Ettiene Botha was where it was believed he was Springbok quality. That took a lot of pressure off the team and coach.

Next year, will be a different story though. Rassie, with his recent success in the local competition, is expected to make or perform the same miracles in the Super 14 competition. Maybe not win it, but at least finish in the top 6 or 7. This is a tough ask for a relatively inexperienced team.

We have to remember, that from the squad that won the Currie Cup, I can think of 5 guys from the top of my head, which has Super 12 experience, excluding the international imports.

Apart from the Super 14, every team in South Africa will look to beat them next year. The Currie Cup is going to be a toughie. They have lost their captain and hooker. Os, CJ, Guthro (gone to Bulls), Juan, Claasens (probably) and Bosman (probably) will not play any Currie Cup games next year. That is their first choice front row, first choice scrummy and a very good versatility player out of the mix.

Because they are the champs, they will also go into every game as the favourites, and the team everyone wants to beat. I was always of the believe, that it is easier to get to the top, it is very difficult to stay there.

The fans would expect nothing less than a final again, and probably to be played at home too. Rassie is not the unknown quantity he was in 2005, and coaches will not underestimate him next year. In 2006, the pressure will be on.

Will they be able to pull it off?

Well, that is difficult to say. I think realistically the fans and SA public should expect nothing more from this team in the Super 14 than a top half finish to the competition. They will be SA’s 4th or 5th best team in my personal view, avoiding relegation by the skin of their teeth. The pressure will prove too much to expect anything more.

As for the Currie Cup. Well, relative to the other top teams they still only loose a small number of players to the national setup, so they should be strong there. But Rassie will do well to get a captain in the mould of Naka again. To me, this will be the telling factor. Naka’s contribution to the Cheetahs success this year was extremely underrated in my view, same can be said for Anton Leonard of the Blue Bulls.

One telling difference will be the pressure and expectation the players will feel next year. They are no longer the friendly cousins of every other union, or the second best team for every other supporter. The are the Currie Cup Champs, and everyone will want a piece of them.

No longer will supporters from other teams be ‘happy’ to loose against the Cheetahs, because the “I don’t mind loosing against the Cheetahs” mentality has disappeared the moment Naka lifted the Currie Cup at Loftus in 2005.

Good luck Cheetahs and Rassie, I love it when people make me eat my words, and I am sure the Orakel will remind me of this piece next year if they finish 1st out of all SA teams in the Super 14 or lift the Currie Cup again!

Comments:
Don't think second year syndrome will come into play. As long as Rassie and his band of merry men (Oh and how can I forget Ollie) keeps on evolving with the game.
 
pressure does funny things. but lets wait and see
 
PA

Even you will not mind orange success- but as I said all along

It is easy to cope with adversity- but much more difficult to handle success.

I buy into your concern of the second year syndrome- but will support my side, come what may.

I believe that Ryno vd Merwe will turn out to be a good captain- but like you said- pressure- it is a slow killer- almost like high blood "pressure".
 
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