Duncan: PRO14 'more physical' than Super Rugby
Cape Town - It's been the toughest of introductions to the PRO14 for Rory Duncan and his Cheetahs.
In two matches - away at Ulster (42-19) and Munster (51-18) - the men from Bloemfontein have shipped 14 tries in two heavy defeats.
The Kings, meanwhile, have not fared any better and are also pointless after two fixtures, comprehensively beaten by the defending champion Scarlets (57-10) and then Connacht (32-10).
Duncan, the man tasked with turning the Cheetahs into a competitive European force, always knew it would be a big ask diving in against two of the tournament's strongest sides.
The Cheetahs ripped 28 players out of their Currie Cup set-up, jetted off to Ireland and had a few days to prepare.
"It is a tough competition, especially when you go away and play the teams that we've played," Duncan told Sport24 on Tuesday.
"There is some strong competition out there and if you look at the experience the sides have and the players they have got, it's a really good competition."
With Super Rugby considered the pinnacle in franchise rugby, there was a strong feeling that the Cheetahs would be a dangerous side in the PRO14.
That might still happen once they get to grips with the different demands that come with northern hemisphere rugby.
According to Duncan, the PRO14 is a more physically demanding brand than Super Rugby.
"We track the players via GPS so we can see what speed the game is played at ... it's not played as fast as Super Rugby," he explained.
"But it's a lot more physical than Super Rugby.
"Playing over there in those conditions, the ability to be able to play an intelligent kicking game is also obviously something that you need in your arsenal."
That is an area where the Cheetahs have struggled, given the injuries at flyhalf.
Fred Zeilinga (hip) is expected back sometime in October while Niel Marais (shoulder) and Clinton Swart (knee) will only be ready in January.
Against Ulster, Duncan backed Clayton Blommetjies at flyhalf while he opted for 21-year-old Robbie Petzer against Munster.
And while both of the players had moments that were impressive, the overall defensive effort of the Cheetahs let them down.
The good news is that they are back on home soil for a run of four straight fixtures in Bloemfontein.
Up first is a clash against Italy's Zebre on Saturday - a match that Duncan will be desperate to win.
"It's important for us to start getting a win or two under the belt," he acknowledged.
"It's important that we capitalise on the home advantage. It's still going to be a tough outing for us but we'll obviously do our homework."
While improving defensively is obviously the area in most urgent need of attention for the Cheetahs, Duncan must also ensure that heads do not drop in the changeroom.
At the start of the competiton, the Cheetahs were named as fourth-favourites to win the tournament by local bookmakers.
And while the results have not reflected that, Duncan says the energy in the squad is still good and that the players are remaining optimistic.
"The mood in the camp is still positive. The guys realise that these were two tough games," he said.
"They are happy to be at home now and are looking forward to these games.
"I don't think the first two games have taken the wind out of the sails ... the guys have obviously realised that this is a tough competition but they are ready to work hard."
Zebre have also lost their first two matches of the tournament, going down 22-13 away at Ospreys and then 41-10 at home to the Scarlets.
A big crowd is expected in Bloemfontein on Saturday due to the fact that Toyota will be dishing out free tickets, and if the Cheetahs want to start building some home momentum, then those fans will need to be part of a winning start.
Kick-off is at 20:30.