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!
Last Year: Despite enjoying their most successful tour to Australasia, where they bagged two wins and suffered two narrow defeats, the Cheetahs' season then took a nosedive. Their failure to make home ground advantage count cost them dearly, and finished 10th overall with a record of 5-11 and 38 points. In a nutshell, despite displaying great heart at times, the Cheetahs - who play an entertaining, high-scoring brand of rugby - lacked the necessary star power and depth to make a lasting impact against vastly superior teams and allowed many matches to slip that were well within their grasp.
This year: Unfortunately for them, the Cheetahs drew the short straw for their fixtures this season with an opening game against last year's finalists (the Sharks) followed by the defending champions the Chiefs in Hamilton. Their tricky road trip doesn't get any smoother with games in Dunedin, Sydney and Perth before they return home. Whether they can repeat last year's impressive feat by winning two from four remains to be seen, but early defeats will make it hard for the Cheetahs to pick themselves up again and make a fist of it. In previous years the Cheetahs would struggle in Super Rugby but perform admirably in the Currie Cup, which would give their fans some hope. The same can't be said this time round as the Free Staters were forced into a promotion-relegation match with the Kings to keep their place amongst the top guns in South Africa's domestic tournament. If the Cheetahs carry their Currie Cup form with them into the Super Rugby arena, then we could be seeing another battle between the aforementioned Kings as both sides bid to avoid last spot in the SA Conference where the team that finishes last faces promotion-relegation matches against the Lions. So with a tough schedule and the risk of being relegated, the Cheetahs have a tough task ahead of them. Unless, they show some of the bite everyone knows they're capable of.
Players to watch: In the forwards, world class flanker Juan Smith will hopefully play a meaningful role on his return from injury this season. Paired with Bok rake Adriaan Strauss - one of the best hookers on show last year - and the Cheetahs have got some serious firepower worth boasting about up front. In the backs, it's hard to look beyond fly-half Johan Goosen who hit the Super Rugby scene with a loud bang last year. He played some exciting rugby, before his season was cut short with an injury. It was no coincidence the Cheetahs' campaign took a turn for the worst when Goosen was ruled out. He has an eye for the gap, good speed off the mark and has great awareness of space. Add his 60m plus penalties and drop kicks ala Frans Steyn, and you have a weapon that can cause havoc.
Noteworthy signings: Caylib Oosthuizen (Lions), Cornal Hendricks (Boland), Elgar Watts (Boland), Johann Sadie (Bulls), Joubert Engelbrecht (Leopards), JP Nel (Shining Arcs), Lodewyk de Jager (Leopards), Rossouw de Klerk (Bulls), Sarel Pretorius (Waratahs), Tertius Daniller (Western Province), Torsten van Jaarsveld (Pumas).
Noteworthy losses: Ashley Johnson (London Wasps), George Earle (Llanelli Scarlets), Izak van der Westhuizen (Edinburgh), Marcel van der Merwe (Bulls), Phillip Snyman (Springbok sevens), Sias Ebersohn (Western Force), WP Nel (Edinburgh)
Prospects: It must be tough being a Cheetahs fan. The team oozes talent and are a joy to watch, but they just can't produce wins on a regular basis for them to be title contenders. The loss of a few key players and game-breakers won't help their cause either. They have a respected coach in the form of Naka Drotske, but if the Cheetahs fail to improve - especially on their defence - then perhaps they might have a former respected coach in their books.
23 February: v Sharks - Home
2 March: v Chiefs - Away
9 March: v Highlanders - Away
15 March: v Waratahs - Away
23 March: v Western Force - Away
30 March: v Rebels - Home
6 April: v Stormers - Home
13 April: V Bulls - Away
20 April: v Sharks - Away
27 April: v Kings - Home
10 May: v Hurricanes - Home
18 May: v Reds - Home
25 May: v Kings - Away
1 June: v Bulls - Home
29 June: v Stormers - Away
6 July: v Blues - Home