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"One of the most iconic stadiums in Europe!"

Posted on Friday, 05 Apr 2024

 "One of the most iconic stadiums in Europe!"
Ruan Pienaar, the emblematic scrum-half of South African rugby (88 caps, 40 years old) and François Steyn (two-time world champion and now Director of Rugby) are real guides for this Cheetahs team that Clermont-Ferrand will face on Saturday at the Michelin. We met them this morning in Clermont, in the midst of a special preparation that does not prevent them from coming into this Challenge Cup round of 16 with ambitions.


The Cheetahs won the Currie Cup last season against the Transvaal Pumas, earning EPCR's invitation to compete in the European competition for the second year in a row. Chance or inconsistency of the calendar (it depends) the Cheetahs will meet the Pumas in the SA Cup this Friday... obviously with a very young team since the priority is left to the European Challenge as confirmed by François Steyn, former Springbok legend who played for Racing and Montpellier. "We have enough of a squad to play these two games. We arrived Tuesday in France with a team that will have the ambition to do better than last season (eliminated in the eighth final on the lawn of Toulon). It's a great competition for us, to give a good image of the Cheetahs. Still, the preparation has been special, as Daniel Kasende, the South African full-back, confirms. "In fact, as soon as the qualifying rounds were over (and the bonus point snatched from Oyonnax which allowed us to qualify) we were on holiday for a month before returning to Bloemfontein to resume training. Then, we had a few "camps" to tackle the start of the South Africa Cup which served as preparation for this return to the Challenge. The Cheetahs took advantage of this to beat the Kanvaliers of Sanlam Boland (38-7) and the Leopards (6-76) in the last two weeks. "It's true that the preparation is different from a team that plays in the continuity of a season or participates in the URC (like the other South African provinces involved), but we have to take this as a challenge and compensate by playing as a team with a lot of consistency and belief in our rugby," continues François Steyn. "We lost last year at the same stage of the competition against Toulon (36-21) so we have to do better," said the director of rugby. "It's a huge challenge against a big pack and great players. We have to move forward. The players love this competition and playing in Europe. We're looking forward to it," says Ruan Pienaar.

I had the opportunity to come with Ulster and Montpellier and I always had the feeling that it was a very difficult pitch but at the same time a stadium where we took a lot of pleasure in playing.


In the Cheetahs' squad, Ruan Pienaar is a UFO after celebrating his fortieth birthday on the pitch. Although he laughs at the fact that he was already 20 years old when Baptiste Jauneau let out his first cry in November 2003 in Pau, Ruan retains an infectious enthusiasm. "My longevity probably comes from the fact that I'm a competitor. I like to prepare for games, I like to win, I like to give everything I can to this team. "Ruan is a bit like our coach, our captain, an incredible player," smiles Daniel Kasende. "With François, in another role, their value is enormous. They are truly guides for us. Ruan doesn't like it when everything revolves around him, he says it's now team time and he does everything to help us so that everyone can give their best on the pitch. However, the scrum-half's experience is a real source of inspiration for this Cheetahs team who listened to their guide talk about the Auvergne. "Of course I remember my time on that lawn," Ruan recalls. "It was tough against Clermont! It's a historic team in French rugby that I've had the opportunity to play against with Ulster and Montpellier. I've always had the feeling that it was a very difficult pitch but at the same time a stadium where we had a lot of fun playing. The supporters, the fans were always incredible. We can't forget the passion of this stadium. It's a place where you have to have played rugby. It's one of the most legendary stadiums in all of Europe." Branded by the Yellow Army, Ruan prepares with "great pleasure and determination". "We know it's going to be a very tough game, but I'm very happy to be here and preparing for this game. It's an honor for me to play for the Cheetahs and pass on everything I can to the whole group. Confidence certainly before going into a match that will certainly be similar in terms of atmosphere to what the South Africans experienced last year... "We were in Toulon for the round of 16 last year, so we're expecting something similar," Kasende said. "This won't be a first and we shouldn't be disturbed by it. We need to play this game to take another step in the history of the Cheetahs. Every game should be a new opportunity to show the best of ourselves. Unabashedly
, the Cheetahs, guided by two South African rugby legends, are preparing for this round of 16 with determination. See you on Saturday at 1:30 p.m. to find out who will be able to get a ticket for the quarter-finals of the Challenge Cup.

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