With the Guinness PRO14 competition suspended indefinitely due to COVID-19, the Toyota Cheetahs have turned their focus to conditioning during the nationwide lockdown in South Africa, with an eye on being in the best possible shape should they return to the field.
It remains to be seen whether the Guinness PRO14 will continue in a revised format later in the season or whether the focus will shift to a local competition, but Toyota Cheetahs coach Hawies Fourie says regardless of the outcome, their aim is to gain momentum as quickly as possible once they are able to resume training.
He admits that it has been challenging to coach during lockdown given the players’ vastly different training environments at home, but Fourie is adamant that their conditioning standards will not slide.
“There is obviously uncertainty around certain competitions, but that has not stopped us from continuing to put in the hard yards,” said Fourie.
“The key for us now is to build on our fitness levels, so every player has a training programme that they need to follow. It has been good to see how innovative they have been, especially given the different circumstances with some of them on farms and others in apartments.
“The players regularly send through videos and have been motivating one another, which has been great. We know where each player was in terms of their fitness and strength before the lockdown, so they know what targets they have to reach when they return, although strength training could be a challenge because of the lack of weights at home.”
Fourie suggested that the coaches may have to be innovative with their training sessions if the squad cannot train together when the lockdown regulations are relaxed, but he said they were ready for any scenario.
“If we cannot train as a squad we will have to split up into small groups, which will require some creativity, but we will make the best of whatever situation we are dealt as the team’s safety is of paramount importance,” said Fourie, whose team was in a position to claim a Guinness PRO14 quarter-final when the tournament was halted.
“We are not sure how the Guinness PRO14 will play out for the rest of the season, as we are already five matches behind where we should have been.
“There are many factors to consider before we can resume but we trust the decision makers and we’ll ensure we are ready for any eventuality, be it the continuation of the Guinness PRO14 or a form of local franchise competition.”
Fourie admitted they experienced an array of emotions when the suspension of the competition was announced. The Toyota Cheetahs had seven matches left in South Africa – six in Bloemfontein – and were only two points behind their main Conference A rivals, the Glasgow Warriors, for a possible playoff spot.
“We were in the UK when they first started taking precautionary measures to curb the spread of the virus, and a month later all rugby was placed on hold, so it all happened very quickly,” said Fourie.
“The fact that we were two points behind the Glasgow Warriors with six home games lined up, while they were scheduled to play several away matches against tough opposition, made the news slightly tougher to deal with.
“But as a team we fully support the stance and measures put in place by our government, SA Rugby, PRO14 Rugby and World Rugby to contain the spread of COVID-19 and we will gladly do our part to assist in that regard.”
On a personal note, Fourie, who returned to Stellenbosch to be with his family during the lockdown, has made the most of the time at home. He said his two sons, who are currently in Matric and first-year at Stellenbosch University, have ensured that he keeps fit with daily training sessions.