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Craig Lewis

Super Rugby preview: Cheetahs


Cheetahs captain Francois Venter Cheetahs captain Francois Venter

The Cheetahs will be looking to back up their Currie Cup success with an improved showing in Super Rugby this year, writes CRAIG LEWIS.

After a surprising and impressive progression to the knockout stage of Super Rugby in 2013, the Cheetahs have again endured a sequence of poor results. Over the past three seasons, the Free State side has finished in the bottom five of the overall standings, with inconsistency and recurring defensive problems once again haunting their efforts.

However, there is a renewed sense of hope in Bloemfontein after the Cheetahs produced an unbeaten run of 10 matches on their way to securing last year’s Currie Cup for the first time since 2007. With inspirational coach Franco Smith at the helm, the Cheetahs added defensive zeal to their characteristic attacking flair, and it’s provided the blueprint for success that they seem determined to carry over into Super Rugby. 

The Cheetahs have managed to retain the majority of their players from last year, and will head into the 2017 Super Rugby season with a settled squad that values work ethic over big-name reputation.

Although the Cheetahs are on the side of the draw that will see them face all five of the Kiwi franchises, three of those matches will be at home.

They will also be buoyed by the fact that four of their first five games are to be played in Bloemfontein, a ground which suits their running style.

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FORWARD TO WATCH
Ox Nche

This talented young prop was the find of the season in 2016. Named the Currie Cup Player of the Year at the SA Rugby Awards, Nche caught the eye during a domestic campaign where he added all-round value to a victorious campaign (scoring two tries, making 36 carries, completing 327 running metres, executing 74 tackles and winning five turnovers). His meteoric rise took shape at the beginning of the 2016 season when he was fast-tracked in to the Cheetahs’ Super Rugby squad after Danie Mienie suffered serious injury at the beginning of the year, with the 21-year-old making an impressive transition to the senior set-up. Having grown in confidence during last year’s Currie Cup campaign, Nche’s next goal is to make a consistent impression during the Super Rugby stage, where he will be hoping to earn a regular starting berth in 2017.

BACK TO WATCH
Francois Venter

At the start of 2016, very few would have predicted that he would end the year as the holder of the Springboks’ No 13 jersey. However, Venter’s consistent form for the Cheetahs earned him a deserved call-up to the Boks for their end-of-year tour, where he started the last three Tests of the year. Although the 25-year-old endured an injury-disrupted Currie Cup season (playing a total of 380 minutes), he still emerged as one of the top-ranked players for clean breaks (six), try assists (five) and turnovers won (six), while he also made 337 running metres and 42 carries. On defence he also played an important role as an organiser, while completing 51 tackles (missing only six). Venter underwent ankle surgery in the off-season, but should be fit for the majority of the 2017 campaign, where he will be determined to build on his impressive progress from last year in the knowledge that he is sure to face a renewed fight for the Bok outside-centre berth.

BIG SIGNING

Tom Botha (Kings)
The abrasive front rower could add much-needed depth at tighthead prop.

BIG LOSS
Lood de Jager (Bulls)

He endured a season of indifferent form in 2016, but remains a player  the Cheetahs will miss after he opted to join the Bulls at the end of last year.

2017 FIXTURES
25 February: Lions (h)
4 March: Bulls (h)
11 March: Sunwolves (h)
18 March: Jaguares (a)
25 March: Sharks (h)
1 April: Stormers (a)
BYE
15 April: Chiefs (h)
22 April: Bulls (a)
29 April: Crusaders (h)
5 May: Highlanders (h)
12 May: Blues (a)
20 May: Hurricanes (a)
27 May: Sunwolves (a)
BREAK FOR JUNE TESTS
1 July: Stormers (h)
BYE
14 July: Kings (a)

PRE-SEASON REPORT: Sharks hammer Cheetahs

2016 NUMBERS THAT MATTER
210 – Lineouts won on own throw (rank 1)
289 – Handling errors (rank 4)
16 – Lineouts stolen (rank 6)
317 – Missed tackles (rank 7)
137 – Offloads (rank 8)
46 – Tries (rank 9)
126 – Clean breaks (rank 12)
1 439 – Carries (rank 16)

2016 RECORD
Won: 4
Lost: 11

PREVIOUS LOG FINISHES
SUPER 12
1996: Did not play
1997: 7th
1998: 12th
1999: 11th
2000: 4th (semi-finalists)
2001: 3rd (semi-finalists)
2002: 11th
2003: 12th
2004: 12th
2005: 11th
SUPER 14
2006: 10th
2007: 11th
2008: 13th
2009: 14th
2010: 10th
SUPER RUGBY
2011: 11th
2012: 10th
2013: 6th (qualifier)
2014: 14th
2015: 12th
2016: 14th
Note: Played as Free State in 1997 and did not qualify in 1996. Played as part of Cats franchise from 1998-2005

FAST FACT
Playing as the Cheetahs, the Bloemfontein-based side’s progression to the 2013 playoffs was the only occasion they’ve featured in a Super Rugby knockout clash.

FOLLOW HIM ON TWITTER
@Swys_Venter

OTHER SA PREVIEWS
Bulls
Kings
Lions
Sharks
Stormers

Photo: Johan Pretorius/Gallo Images

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