Super Rugby preview: Cheetahs

The Cheetahs could struggle again in this year's tournament after a mass exodus of players.

After reaching the play-offs in 2013, much was expected of the Cheetahs in 2014. Their failure was absolute. They finished at the foot of the South African conference and 14th overall in what was a fairly forgettable season.

Their tactical naivety bordered on the absurd at times, believing they’d outscore the opposition and defence didn’t matter. Their defensive record in 2014 makes for some damning reading. They conceded more points (33) and tries (3.7) per game than any other team.

Coach Naka Drotské spent the Currie Cup season on a fact-finding expedition to the northern hemisphere and will be looking to implement what he has learned into the Cheetahs game plan. 

Drotské will also be dealing with a mass exodus of players, most notably the departure of captain Adriaan Strauss and fellow Springbok front ranker Trevor Nyakane to the Bulls. Throw in the numerous squad members who have headed across the equator and the Cheetahs are looking decidedly thin heading into the 2015 campaign.

Their season starts with tough matches against the Sharks, Blues and Bulls before an overseas tour that includes matches against the Crusaders, Chiefs and Brumbies.

It looks like it may be another tough season for the boys from Bloem. However, with strike runners like Willie le Roux and Cornal Hendricks in their ranks, they’re always capable of springing a surprise or two.

Teboho Mohoje
will start 2015 as a Springbok incumbent, a far cry from 12 months ago when he was knocking about as a Varsity Cup player for Shimlas. His rise has been meteoric, making his first start for the Boks against Australia, before starting three of the four end-of-year tour matches. It was a steep learning curve for the player dubbed ‘Oupa’, who had played just 10 Super Rugby matches before his first taste of Test rugby. Mohoje acquitted himself well, without being truly outstanding. He remains a raw talent, while he hasn’t yet shown himself capable of grabbing a match by the throat and bending it to his will. With the loss of Lappies Labuschagne (Bulls), Philip van der Walt (Biarritz) and Boom Prinsloo (injury), Mohoje’s role becomes increasingly important. Apart from proving a spring-heeled option in the lineout, he’ll give them a physical edge from the blindside role they’ve lacked since the loss of Juan Smith.

Cornal Hendricks
made the transition from talented sevens player to fully-fledged Bok in 2014. His selection for the June Tests came on the back of a Super Rugby season that saw him thrive in an adventurous and attacking Cheetahs team. With his quick feet and great acceleration, Hendricks proved himself a consummate finisher at Super Rugby and international levels. He managed six tries for the Cheetahs, before notching up a try every other game for the Boks. His game intelligence and ability to find space is also very good – skills he honed during his time on the sevens circuit. There are still aspects of his game that require work and he sometimes has the tendency to go missing in matches. However, in a Cheetahs side shorn of some of its senior players, he’ll fill a more prominent role this season, one that should see him take his career to new heights, especially with the World Cup on the horizon.

Clayton Blommetjies (Bulls)
Willie Britz (Lions)
JP du Plessis (Montpellier, France)
Willie du Plessis (Lions)
JW Jonker (Lions)
Devin Oosthuizen (EP Kings)
Sergeal Petersen (EP Kings)
Joe Pietersen (Biarritz, France)
BG Uys (EP Kings)
Coenie van Wyk (Lions)

Hennie Daniller (Zebre, Italy)
Rossouw de Klerk (Glasgow Warriors, Scotland))
Andries Ferreira (Zebre, Italy)
Johan Goosen (Racing Métro, France)
Lappies Labuschagne (Bulls)
Ligtoring Landman (Newport Gwent Dragons, Wales)
Hercu Liebenberg (released)
Kevin Luiters (EP Kings)
Howard Mnisi (Lions)
Trevor Nyakane (Bulls)
Nick Schonert (Worcester Warriors, England)
Riaan Smit (Oyonnax, France)
Adriaan Strauss (Bulls)
Philip van der Walt (Biarritz, France)
Waltie Vermeulen (retired)

11 – The number of yellow cards the Cheetahs received in 2014 Super Rugby (Rank 2)
1,948 – The number of passes they completed, more than any other South African franchise (Rank 7)
145 – The number of knock-ons they made – only the Stormers made less (Rank 14)
38 – The number of tries they scored, the most by any South African team (Rank 9)
302 – The number of tackles they missed (Rank 3)
140 – The number of times they offloaded (Rank 10)
143 – The number of points Cheetahs top-scorer Johan Goosen amassed (Rank 9)
22 – The number of penalties Coenie Oosthuizen conceded, the most by a South African (Rank 4)
1,087 – The number of metres Willie le Roux ran (Rank 4)
Source: Vodacom Rugby Stats App

Naka Drotské went to the UK after the 2014 Super Rugby tournament to learn about developments in coaching structures and other rugby-related matters.

14 February vs Sharks (a)
20-21 February BYE
27 February vs Blues (h)
7 March vs Bulls (h)
14 March vs Sharks (h)
21 March vs Crusaders (a)
28 March vs Chiefs (a)
4 April vs Brumbies (a)
11 April vs Force (a)
18 April vs Reds (h)
25 April vs Lions (a)
2 May vs Stormers (h)
8-9 May BYE
16 May vs Highlanders (h)
23 May vs Lions (h)
30 May vs Stormers (a)
6 June vs Waratahs (h)
13 June vs Bulls (a)

Won: 4 (25%)
Drew: 1
Lost: 11

1996 DNP
1997 7th
1998 12th
1999 11th
2000 4th (semi-finalists)
2001 3rd (semi-finalists)
2002 11th
2003 12th
2004 12th
2005 11th
2006 10th
2007 11th
2008 13th
2009 14th
2010 10th
2011 11th
2012 10th
2013 6th (qualifier)
2014 14th
Note: Played as Free State in 1997 and did not qualify in 1996. Played as part of Cats franchise from 1998-2005
Super 12 from 1996-2005, Super 14 from 2006-2010, 15-team Super Rugby from 2011

Raymond Rhule

Bulls preview
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Sharks preview
Stormers preview

Photo: Anthony Au-Yeung/Photosport

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