The Cheetahs have to be the team in the South African conference that stands the most to gain from the new Super Rugby format. This is a team that has traditionally, particularly in the past decade or so, been one of the domestic top dogs. In fact, for them to fail to make the semi-final rounds of the Currie Cup is a huge disappointment. This form, however, has never been able to be transferred into Super Rugby.
Will this be the year when they make a significant push for the top spots?
Well, based on last year’s Currie Cup form, their potential for success in this year’s competition is dubious. They faired decently, by their own high standards in the Currie Cup, throughout the league stages of the tournament but were comprehensively beaten by Western Province in the semi-final. Because they’ll face similar odds throughout the competition, plus the added obstacle of international teams whom they don’t usually fair well against, I’m inclined to think that although they’ll be far more competitive than we’ve seen in Super Rugby, they’ll not necessarily be real contenders for top honors in our conference.
Naka Drotske will remain at the helm. Ever since Rassie Erasmus vacated the job, Naka has seen little success at this level and one wonders if he ever will in his tenure. But again, with this new format, who knows what he can do with his side? How much he, his managerial team, and his senior players strategise in order to make the most the conference system will play a huge part in the Cheetahs’ progression.
If they can stay competitive enough to beat their domestic rivals frequently, home and away, then Drotske’s next task will have to be to instill the confidence in his charges to win one or two games overseas, something which has almost completely eluded them in this competition. Only then can the Cheetahs hope to be serious title contenders.
Unlike last season, their captain fantastic, Juan Smith, will likely be partnered in his exploits by the pocket battleship that is Heinrich Brussow, arguably the team’s most valuable player. The two are virtually the team’s only real first choice Springboks, with others such as winger Jongi Nokwe, hooker Adriaan Strauss, and eighth man Ashley Johnson only being fringe players for the national side. They are, however, quality players in their own rite who will be invaluable to the side, particularly Adriaan Strauss, who has proven himself to be quite the leader, and should assist Juan Smith in bringing the Cheetahs together.
The only real player coup the team has made so far is that of acquiring the services of Andries Strauss. The centre has decided to move from the Sharks back to the Free State, and will be an added boost to the side’s midfield stocks, as well as cause a slight selection headache for coach Drotske, even more so after having played for the Boks against the Barbarians this past season.
2011 could be the year that the Cheetahs start making a name for themselves in Super Rugby. As mentioned earlier, the new format will suit them and the Free State faithful will be hoping that this is the year that their beloved team can make the step up.