Cheetahs coach Naka Drotske has read the riot act to his players, and demanded a better performance than the one they put up in their Vodacom Super Rugby loss to the Melbourne Rebels.
Drotske was not a happy man after his side went down 35-14 to the Melbourne Rebels in their opening tour match – continuing their trend of not being able to win in their first match on tour.
“I’m not happy,” Drotske admitted from the Gold Coast, where the team is now preparing for Friday’s match with the Queensland Reds.
“We had our review this morning and we gave away 25 turnovers, 17 of them in the first half. The rest of the stats don’t look better – there were 11 penalties, 8 in the first half and it was amazing we were just 14 points down at halftime. Our defence was very bad. We couldn’t put the ball through three phases more than twice in the half.
“We lost every single battle on the park, and I told the players I wasn’t happy with this. We need to have more respect for the ball when we have possession and we definitely need to improve our discipline, it’s simply not good enough.”
Ironically Drotske did speak at length before leaving South Africa on the need for his players to “switch on” for the first game – a game where they have traditionally struggled. But the Cheetahs team that turned up looked out of sorts, a far cry from the polished unit that beat the Bulls a week earlier.
“The try that came from the cross kick – when our wings were walking back to be behind the posts – it was unacceptable. The fact we couldn’t string phases together and all the handling mistakes we made points to one thing – we were never properly switched on for the game.
“We’ve had a session today and we spoke some harsh words. We’ll take this one on the chin,” Drotske added.
“We can’t play like this again, and the players know that. We need more consistency. We can’t be down one week against the Lions, then good the next against the Bulls and then play like this. All that we ask is that the players pitch up for the game in the correct mental frame of mind. Their body language needs to be right.
One aspect of the play that particularly irked Drotske was the fact that the team were bullied at the breakdown.
“We were bullied by an Australian team at the breakdown. That’s simply not on. If you think that the New Zealand sides are even better and put more players and work into the breakdown and it is usually something we pride ourselves on, then we know we have to make a massive step-up. Everyone needs to buy in and there is only one way – make sure we are mentally up for the next game.
“What worries us as management is that this isn’t the first time this has happened, we traditionally struggle in the first game on tour – last year we lost to the Chiefs 45-3 and it was precisely the same scenario. We gave the Rebels too much turnover ball, and our discipline was schoking. But last year we at least bounced back the next week to win against the Highlanders.
“We traditionally struggle against the Reds, and it is normally a very difficult game, but it is important that we become clinical and make that mental shift.”
Drotske hopes the Rebels loss will be put behind his team and they only perform better from here on. And history will tell them that last year they powered from an opening loss to win the remaining three games on tour.
After targeting a full house from the four week trip, Drotske is now hoping his team return to the way he knows and wants them to play.
He will have to make a decision this week about a possible change in the backline, with winger Raymond Rhule rolling his ankle during the game and in doubt to play this coming week.
But other than that the changes are likely to be minimal.
The biggest change that Drotske wants, however, is in the players’ attitude and form on the field.