Super Rugby

Super Rugby preview: Cheetahs

Lood de Jager (Gallo Images)
Lood de Jager (Gallo Images)

Cape Town - This season sees the Cheetahs enter Super Rugby with a new coach for the first time in eight years as Franco Smith takes charge. 

He replaces Naka Drotske, signifying the dawn of a new era in Bloemfontein. 

The Cheetahs are fortunate in that they avoid the New Zealand sides in the group stages, but they do have tough South African opposition in their conference in the form of the Bulls and Stormers. 

Not much is expected of the men in orange in 2016, but they have shown consistently in recent years that on their day they can upset anyone. 

Fans will remember 2013 all to well when the Cheetahs shocked to earn a playoff in Canberra against the Brumbies, only to go out after an 80th minute missed conversion from Riaan Smit.

Expect a few upsets along the way, and lots of tries at both ends.

Coach: Franco Smith

Captain: Francois Venter

Last season: 5th in SA conference, 12th overall

Grouped with: Stormers, Bulls, Sunwolves

Potential strengths: It may sound harsh, but on the surface there don't appear to be many strengths to this Cheetahs side outside of a few quality individuals - Lood de Jager the obvious example. The Cheetahs are a side that likes to throw the ball around, and they are entertaining to watch even if they are not always effective. Fred Zeilinga has joined from the Sharks and he will add a new dimension to the attack, and if he can get the backline going then the Cheetahs do have some accomplished finishers. You never quite know what to expect from the Free Staters, and their ability to win against anyone - home or away - on any day is perhaps their biggest attribute.

Potential weaknesses: Defence. For all of their attacking intent under Drotske, the Cheetahs have been woeful defensively for the past few seasons. It is the surely the area that has commanded the most attention during pre-season, and they will have to be far tighter if they are to show more consistency in 2016.

Players to watch: In De Jager, the Cheetahs boast South Africa's 2015 player of the year. The towering lock will be a major weapon for Smith this season, while in the loose-forwards a lot will also be expected of Boom Prinsloo.  

Realistic aim: The Cheetahs are not expected to be around after the group stages, but they will be looking to give a good account of themselves. Finishing ahead of the Kings and Sunwolves in the South African group will be the first priority. 

Players in: Aranos Coetzee (Brive), Sias Ebersohn (Force), Neil Rautenbach (Stormers), Paul Schoeman (Kings), William Small-Smith (Bulls), Fred Zeilinga (Sharks).

Players out: Dolph Botha (Shimlas), Reiner Botha (Shimlas), Francois Brummer (Bulls), Heinrich Brüssow (NTT Docomo), Stephan Coetzee (Griquas), Jean Cook (Zebre), Danie Dames (released), Willie du Plessis (Toulon), Carel Greeff (Kings), Cornal Hendricks (Stormers), Willie le Roux (Sharks), Caylib Oosthuizen (Kings), Coenie Oosthuizen (Sharks), Joe Pietersen (Sharks), Sarel Pretorius (Dragons), Johann Sadie (Agen), Steven Sykes (Kings), Ewald van der Westhuizen (Griquas), Elgar Watts (Kings).

First fixture: February 26, Jaguares (h).

SUPER RUGBY PREVIEW: SHARKS

SUPER RUGBY PREVIEW: LIONS

SUPER RUGBY PREVIEW: STORMERS

SUPER RUGBY PREVIEW: BULLS

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