Cheetahs embracing expanded Super Rugby

Cheetahs head coach Franco Smith feels honoured to be playing the first ever Super Rugby match in Singapore against the Sunwolves, with the South African happy to be in the hot and humid conditions instead of chilly Tokyo.

Saturday’s fixture is the first of three ‘home’ games the new Japanese Sunwolves will play at Singapore’s National Stadium, part of a deal agreed before the Tokyo-based outfit beat out a bid from the Southeast Asians to take part in this season’s expanded Southern Hemisphere competition.

“It will be a big honour for us to be part of a historical game,” Smith told reporters on Friday.

“I have been involved in Super Rugby for a long time and I think having two teams playing here… is exceptional and it’s a great opportunity to be a part of it.”

With temperatures in Singapore reaching 35 degrees Celsius on Friday, in stark contrast to the wet and cool weather in Tokyo, Smith was confident the conditions would suit his side, who are based in the high altitude of Bloemfontein.

“For sure. We prefer to play when it is warm than when it is freezing cold,” he later told Reuters.

The former flyhalf, who took charge at the end of last season as the Cheetahs finished bottom of the South African conference, was also delighted to avoid the extra seven hour flight onto Tokyo.

Little was expected of his young side this term following a host of big name departures such as Springboks Willie Le Roux, Cornal Hendricks and Heinrich Brussow. Smith said the season would be a learning curve for his charges.

“Ninety per cent of the guys who came out it’s their first time overseas,” he said in an interview.

“First time on an airplane, so it’s a lot of new things for the young guys coming from varsity last year but we are excited about making them step up.”

Cheetahs skipper Francois Venter said jet lag had been a problem after touching down on Thursday following the 10 hour flight to Singapore but the centre was sure his side were ready to put things right after two disappointing losses.

They showed early promise before letting slip a 21-point advantage to lose 34-33 to the Jaguares of Argentina in their opener and were then beaten 20-10 by the Stormers last week in a South African derby.

Smith was keen to get a first win under his belt against the fledgling Sunwolves, who were beaten 26-13 in their opener against the Lions of Johannesburg and struggled in the set piece.

“Obviously it is important, but in saying that we don’t want to add that extra pressure on the players,” he said, adding Springbok lock Lood de Jager was being rested for the trip.

“It’s difficult coming out in the third game, I would have loved to have pinched one of the first two so that the pressure was off but it’s not going to make a big difference. I think we are playing a good brand.”

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