We preview the Cheetahs’ upcoming Super Rugby campaign as they aim to shine with a new-look squad in 2012.
The Cheetahs have always had a poor record abroad and will want to improve on their performances away from their Free State fortress this year.
They were the team that missed the most tackles during the 2011 tournament (459) and improved defence will thus be one of their top priorities.
The Cheetahs will certainly look to improve on their 11th place finish in 2011. Furthermore, they will have the added pressure of possible Super Rugby exclusion if they finish bottom of the South African conference, after the South African Rugby Union announced they will need to make room for the Southern Kings as of 2013.
Having lost big guns Corne Uys, Sarel Pretorius, Wilhelm Steenkamp and Riaan Viljoen, the Cheetahs have been forced to draft in a handful of inexperienced youngsters this season.
Arguably the best openside flanker in the world, Springbok ace Heinrich Brüssow will, however, return from injury and will be raring to go after missing most of the 2011 season after acquiring a knee injury.
The Cheetahs' campaign will also depend largely on the performances of Springboks Ashley Johnson and Adriaan Strauss. Both players put in some brilliant runs last season and will only be looking to build on their performances and contribute the momentum the Cheetahs so desperately need.
Regular captain Juan Smith is still struggling to overcome his Achilles injury but is expected to return to action mid-tournament. His experience and leadership will be missed in the opening rounds but he could offer a welcome boost in the latter stages of the competition.
Prediction: Bottom five.