The Free State side, who are unbeaten in the Carling Currie Cup, won the game 45-33, but the Academy youngsters delivered a good, fighting display to emphasise their growth as a group. On Monday, they faced the Windhoek Draught Griquas, also in Bloemfontein, with the team from Kimberley victorious by 38-21.

This year’s Academy programme, which is one of the key pillars in preparing the top junior players in the country to make the step-up to the Junior Springbok, started in April and runs until 30 June at the Stellenbosch Academy of Sport (SAS).

Nhleko explained that they wanted to take the players out of their comfort zone, and he was encouraged by their performances during the two 80-minute sessions.

“The guys played against two teams that are presently second and fourth on the Carling Currie Cup log, and so we wanted to test their intensity and physicality at this level,” said Nhleko.

“We managed to score three tries against Griquas and five against the Cheetahs, which were well constructed. The Cheetahs, especially, started at a tremendous pace and it took us a while to adopt, but once the guys weren’t star-struck anymore it went better. 

“This was a great learning curve for our forward pack from a scrum perspective and we are pleased with the quality of the lineouts.

“Physically, we matched up and at times, despite conceding, I thought defensive system showed great signs. In the end I’m pleased that we managed to stay in the fight against a very good and experienced opponent,” added Nhleko.

The two games in Bloemfontein increased the number of Academy training matches to four, following their recent hit-outs against the DHL Western Province and the DHL Stormers in Stellenbosch.

There is one more training match in the pipeline, a clash with the Boland Kavaliers on 1 June, while an international series for the Junior Boks are in an advanced planning stage.