The Cheetahs have shifted their focus to their scrums and defence as they aim to become a complete team.
The Bloemfontein-based side, who in recent years have become known for their strong scrummaging, struggled with their set-pieces last year, which resulted in many good open play options being reduced as a result of poor scrumming.
New Cheetahs Head Coach Franco Smith, who took over from Naka Drotske with two Super Rugby games remaining last year, has been focusing on laying the foundation with off-season conditioning and getting the basics right in an attempt to fix their errors.
"On defence, it was a lot better in the Currie Cup. If we look back – and people may not realise it – but those 12 or 13 tries we conceded against the Lions was with our second team and it made us look bad. It hurt us in terms of confidence but I knew it was a growing pain and it would be that way. Defence is just as much a priority as any other part of the game, and we try and be a complete team," Smith told Supersport.
"It was impossible to fix all of that before last year’s Currie Cup season, but it doesn’t mean we didn’t identify it. We did a review process after last year’s Currie Cup and those things that stood out like a sore finger, we addressed first."
"We’ve been scrumming now from day one and worked hard on it. Physical conditioning will make a big difference with regards to this, and it is something we have worked extremely hard on. We have changed the way we scrum in the sense that the power will come from the back of the scrum and not just being reliant on the front three."
Smith says that the team knows they will have to improve their ball retention if they want to be real contenders in the competition.
"So to play in the right areas of the field will be just as important. Along with that, if we keep the ball better then we will tackle less. I always say to the guys – 100% of teams without the ball never score a try. If you keep the ball more, then you will defend less and then the quality of defending will go up.
"We have worked on it and there is a plan around it."
The Cheetahs will face the Bulls this weekend in a pre-season game in Harare.
Their first is encounter is with the new entrants, the Jaguares, in Bloemfontein on February 26.