Planet Rugby

Super Rugby Preview: Cheetahs

09th February 2014 06:36

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Johan Goosen kicking FS Cheetahs 2013

Playmaker: Johan Goosen

With the new Super Rugby season looming large on the horizon we take a look at each of the 15 competitors. Next up, the Cheetahs!

After setting the bar very high last year, the Cheetahs will be hard-pressed to make the play-offs again.

Last Year: The surprise package of 2013, the Cheetahs enjoyed their best-ever season, finishing second in the South Africa conference and sixth on the overall table. Losing to the Brumbies in the play-offs, by just two points, after a missed conversion in the dying seconds brought a heartbreaking end to an entertaining campaign.

Consecutive wins overseas against the Highlanders, Waratahs and Force in a five-game winning streak that also saw the Stormers beaten in Bloemfontein heralded the start of a new era for the Free Staters - never again will they be underestimated.

The Cheetahs have always been a dangerous attacking team but their success in 2013 was thanks to the massive improvement in their defence. The one disappointment was their inconsistent form at home - where they won just 63 percent of their games, the worst record of the top six teams.

This year: As always, the biggest problem at the Free State Stadium is the exit turnstile, which always revolves much faster than the one at the entrance. Luckily coach Naka Drotske has been able to hang onto some of his stars during the offseason, but the departures of Piet van Zyl and Robert Ebersohn will hurt.

Squad depth has always been an issue and once again the Cheetahs' fortunes will depend heavily on keeping certain key players - like skipper Adriaan Strauss - fit. Heinrich Brüssow is already crocked but fortunately the back row is one place where the Cheetahs are relatively well stocked.

It will be interesting to see how the team does without defence coach Michael Horak, who is leaving for the Kings and will not be replaced. He was still around for the warm-up games - against Shimlas, Kings and Pumas - in which only three tries were conceded. Drotske says the defensive system is now in place and the other coaches will take over where Horak left off. On the attacking front, the good news is that fly-half Johan Goosen - who many regard as South Africa's most creative 10 - is back from another long injury lay off, which is a significant boost.

The draw sees the Cheetahs dealt a tough overseas tour early in the campaign before returning to host back-to-back games against the Chiefs and Crusaders. They won't play two of the teams they beat last year, the Waratahs and the Highlanders, at all. A challenging season lies ahead.

Players to watch: Springbok utility back Willie le Roux is the most exciting outside back in South Africa. Despite making his mark at right wing last year, he has asked to play at full-back in 2014 as he looks to cement himself a berth in the national side (JP Pietersen and Bryan Habana are set to be the Bok wings). Whatever number he has on his back, expect Le Roux to pop up all over the show as he has been given licence to roam. Shaun Venter is an exciting scrum-half, who is "going to surprise a few people this year" according to Drotske. All eyes will be on Johan Goosen, who was has hailed as the next great Bok fly-half until injury ruined his season last year. Lappies Labuschagne is banging hard of the Springbok selectors' door.

Noteworthy signings: Cornal Hendricks (SA Sevens), Francois Venter (Bulls), Shaun Venter (Kings), Jean Cook (Bulls), Piet Lindeque (Sharks)

Noteworthy departures: Lourens Adriaanse (Sharks), Robert Ebersohn (Montpellier), Burton Francis (Agen), Frans Viljoen (Lyon), Piet van Zyl (Bulls)

Prospects: The Cheetahs are always a sure bet to put on a show and neutral fans would love to them repeat last year's heroics. But we're not sure that will be possible. The draw has not been kind. Mid-table is the most likely conclusion, but the playoffs may be just out of reach.

Fixtures:

Sat 15 Feb: v Lions - home
Fri 21 Feb: v Bulls - home
Fri 28 Feb: v Rebels - away
Fri 07 Mar: v Reds - away
Sat 15 Mar: v Hurricanes - away
Sat 22 Mar: v Blues - away
Sat 05 Apr: v Chiefs - home
Sat 12 Apr: v Crusaders - home
Sat 19 Apr: v Sharks - away
Sat 26 Apr: v Stormers - home
Sat 03 May: v Bulls - away
Sat 10 May: v Force - home
Sat 17 May: v Brumbies - home
Sat 24 May: v Stormers - away
Sat 05 Jul: v Sharks - home
Sat 12 Jul: v Lions - away

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Saturday , August 2
Waratahs 33 - 32 CrusadersWaratahs vs Crusaders Report
Saturday , July 26
Waratahs 26 - 8 BrumbiesWaratahs vs Brumbies Report
Crusaders 38 - 6 SharksCrusaders vs Sharks Report
Saturday , July 19
Brumbies 32 - 30 ChiefsBrumbies vs Chiefs Report
Sharks 31 - 27 HighlandersSharks vs Highlanders Report
Saturday , July 12
Crusaders 34 - 8 HighlandersCrusaders vs Highlanders Report
Reds 3 - 34 WaratahsReds vs Waratahs Report
Stormers 10 - 34 SharksStormers vs Sharks Report
Lions 60 - 25 CheetahsLions vs Cheetahs Report
Friday , July 11
Blues 8 - 11 ChiefsBlues vs Chiefs Report
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Super Rugby Table
PosTeamPPts
1Waratahs1658
2Crusaders1651
3Sharks1650
4Brumbies1645
5Chiefs1644
6Highlanders1642
7Hurricanes1641
8Western Force1640
9Bulls1638
10Blues1637
11Stormers1632
12Lions1631
13Reds1628
14Cheetahs1624
15Melbourne Rebels1621
Australian Conference
Super Rugby Table
PosTeamPPts
1Waratahs1658
2Brumbies1645
3Western Force1640
4Reds1628
5Melbourne Rebels1621
New Zealand Conference
Super Rugby Table
PosTeamPPts
1Crusaders1651
2Chiefs1644
3Highlanders1642
4Hurricanes1641
5Blues1637
South African Conference
Super Rugby Table
PosTeamPPts
1Sharks1650
2Bulls1638
3Stormers1632
4Lions1631
5Cheetahs1624