#SuperRugby profile: Cheetahs

Cheetahs head into Super Rugby on the back foot with a number of key players leaving the union.

Picture: fscheetahs.co.za.

CAPE TOWN - Carl Lewis previews the South African franchises ahead of the expanded Super Rugby competition.

HEAD COACH

Franco Smith

CAPTAIN

Francois Venter

OVERVIEW

The Cheetahs head into Super Rugby on the back foot with a number of key players leaving the union coupled with the departure of long standing coach Naka Drotske.

The key players include Springboks' Coenie Oosthuizen, Willie le Roux and Cornal Hendricks amongst a few others.

If you were an optimist you could look at the Cheetahs saying it's a fresh new start under new coach Franco Smith who cut his teeth with the famous Shimlas rugby club, claiming a Varsity Cup along the way.

Smith has vowed to continue playing the traditional Free State running rugby that has won the union many plaudits and made them the top trying scoring South African franchise in last year's edition.

However, Smith's biggest challenge will be shoring up the Bloemfontein side's sieve-like defence. They shipped a staggering 65 tries averaging over 30 points per match in last year's campaign.

It's fledgling squad that Smith will be operating with alongside his new captain 24-year-old centre Francois Venter. Questions will remain if the inexperienced group can last throughout the gruelling 17-week group stage.

LAST YEAR

Last in the South African Conference and 12th overall.

PROSPECTS

If the Cheetahs were to make it to the playoffs it would be some achievement as they have both the Stormers and the Bulls in their conference alongside the Sunwolves from Japan.

NOTES

Oupa Mohoje returns around March from injury.

Sias Ebersohn returns from Western Force stone to fight out the flyhalf berth with new signing Fred Zeilinga.

Beat the Bulls and Kings in preseason matches.

KEY PLAYER

Lood De Jager is the Cheetahs shining light, after a breakthrough season internationally he will look to cement his newfound status in the domestic rugby. The baby faced yet fearsome lock brings physicality and work ethic that will hopefully inspire this green Cheetah's outfit.

ONE TO WATCH

Boom Prinsloo is a hard working loose forward and a veteran relative to this Cheetahs line up. Prinsloo's multi-faceted game will add to any side and will hope to carry his form from last year into this season at a time where his quality will certainly be needed. Prinsloo scored eight tries last year whilst also getting through a large volume of tackles and carries for his team. In the absence of Heinrich Brussouw his impact will be more necessary than ever.

CHEETAHS SCHEDULE

26 February: Jaguars (h)

5 March: Stormers (h)

12 March: Sunwolves (a)

19 March: Lions (a)

26 March: Brumbies (h)

2 April: Bulls (a)

8-9 April: BYE

15 April: Sunwolves (h)

22 April: Rebels (a)

30 April: Reds (a)

7 May: Waratahs (a)

14 May: Kings (h)

20-21 May: BYE

28 May: Stormers (a)

Break - Test Rugby

2 July: Force (h)

9 July: Sharks (a)

16 July: Bulls (h)