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Guiness Pro 14 Preview: Cheetahs

Cheetahs are one of the two new teams added to the Pro 14 for the upcoming season. A longtime member of Super Rugby, the Cheetahs have always been a team that struggled in their competition. The team’s best performance came in 2013 when they finished 6th in the competition.

This past spring, SANZAAR announced the SARU would need to cut two teams from their competition following the 2017 season. Shortly thereafter, rumors began to spread that the Guinness Pro 12 was working to bring the Cheetahs as well as the Southern Kings into their competition. This decision was later confirmed and to mixed reviews, the Cheetahs joined the Pro 14.

The transition has certainly been hard, coming off a five-month Super Rugby season. They had less than two months off before the start of their new season with Pro 14. There has been little time to prep for 12 new opponents before their debut in Ulster.

Squad

With the short period of time between seasons, there has not been much time to pull in new players.  Even with that limited time, they have made some impressive signings. They have brought on players from the other new Pro 14 team the Southern Kings as well as the Blitzbokkes.

Makazole Mapimpi- Southern Kings

Mapimpi spent his early years playing for the Border Bulldogs club in East Cape South Africa from 2009-16. Last year, he was called up to the Southern Kings and made a tremendous impact. In his 13 appearances for the Kings, he scored a tremendous 10 tries. His speed allows him to break past defenders for moves like this:

He has spent his off-season staying in rugby shape playing for the Free State Cheetahs in the Currie Cup. In the four matches he has played in, he has scored an astounding 6 tries. Expect him to start early, especially with Raymond Rhule still away with international duties.

Malcolm Jaer- Southern Kings

In two years with the Kings, Jaer had 8 starts this past season with 5 tries among them. With the Free State Cheetahs, he has been a reliable substitute, scoring 2 tries in his most recent match against the Pumas. He played full back and fly half with the Kings, but has been slotting into the center position with the Cheetahs.

Cecil Afrika- Blitzbokkes

Cecil Afrika has been a tremendous player during his time with the South African 7s team, the Blitzbokkes. He is one of the players that made up the great South African Olympic team that won the bronze medal in Rio. In his eight years with the Blitzbokkes he amassed over 1000 points as well as a gold medal in the 2014 commonwealth games. Once he transitions to the 15s, team he will be a great asset to the team.

Along with Cecil Afrika, another pair of 7s stars have joined the Cheetahs. Afrika is joined by fellow bronze medalist Rosko Specman as well as long time Blitzbokker Chris Dry.

Expected Starting XV

  1. Ox Nche- 24 caps. Nche burst onto the Cheetahs scene in 2016 as a new comer starting six matches during the season. This past season started nine and capped all but two matches.
  2. Torsten van Jaarsveld- 49 caps.
  3. Johan Coetzee- 23 caps.
  4. Armandt Koster- 14 caps. Very few caps, with 12 of them coming last season. Lock is a lean position for the Cheetahs. especially in overall experience.
  5. Carl Wegner- 41 caps.
  6. Uzair Cassiem- 24 caps.
  7. Oupa Mohoje- 38 caps. This all-star Springbok flanker brings good experience to the team having started six matches in last year’s Rugby Championship.
  8. Henco Venter- 29 caps.
  9. Shaun Venter- 47 cap.
  10. Rhyno Eksteen- 0 caps. With no playing time for the Cheetahs and only one start for the Free State Cheetahs, Eksteen will start, at least the first part of the season. The fly half position has been absolutely ravaged by injury during the off-season, leaving Rhyno as the only option. There is also the potential Cecil Afrika could be used at fly half.
  11. Raymond Rhule- 66 caps. The Springbok wing that scored a try in the opening round of this year’s Rugby Championship will take over at 11 once returning. This will be his last season with the Cheetahs as he will be moving on to Western Province next season. Until his return, expect Makazole Mapimpi to play 11.
  12. William Small-Smith- 24 caps.
  13. Francois Venter- 44 caps.
  14. Sergeal Petersen- 35 caps.
  15. Clayton Blommetjies- 36 caps.

Coaching

The entire staff this year have their hands full with the transition. The Cheetahs organization is now split between coaches and players until the Currie Cup ends November 1. Usually, teams have the advantage of united squads for the most part in both competitions. This change will likely hurt the Free State Cheetahs’ stock after winning last year’s Currie Cup. With very little prep time for an entirely new conference of teams, it will be a lot of long hours at the office for the coaching staff.

Schedule

The Cheetahs’ season will be a true test of their fitness for the competition. It all starts round one when Cheetahs travel to Ulster for the opening match of the season. Luckily, this is their toughest away cross conference match as their other away matches are Treviso and Dragons. They will run a bad gauntlet with Munster, Ospreys, and Glasgow home and away matches. It will be good to see how they respond to the new matchups.

Outlook

It’s almost impossible to make any prediction for their season. It will start roughly, losing some of their players to the Rugby Championship. The injury problems at fly half are very concerning, especially considering the idea of putting Cecil Afrika in at the position. They will likely improve as the season moves on and the Currie Cup and Rugby Championship end. At this point, it is too early to call for the Cheetahs.

 

 

 

Pro 14 Previews:

Connacht

Cardiff Blues

Zebre

Ulster

Edinburgh

Dragons

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David Bradham

Active duty Navy, have a true passion for Rugby.
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