Springbok stalwart Juan Smith will lead the Cheetahs when they take on Griquas in their first Super 14 pre-season match at Grey College on Friday.
Rugby 365 reports that the Cheetahs coaching panel decided on naming the Bok flank in the starting XV, despite medical opinion – which suggested that he should be reintroduced “gradually” to contact, with a “high level of vigilance” for any symptoms of concussion.
It was expected that Smith, who suffered concussion in South Africa’s Test against Scotland in November and missed all of the pre-season workouts in December, would only return in the second pre-season friendly against the Bulls in Polokwane at the end of the month.
However, the Cheetahs coaches felt it necessary to name their best XV for the outing against Griquas.
Although the Cheetahs played an internal trial last Friday – where the Super 14 squad’s back-up players faced the Free State Vodacom Cup side – and there is still the trip to Polokwane to face the Bulls on January 30, the Griquas game forms an important part of the team’s preparations.
The selections are a significant indicator of what the Cheetahs’ starting XV will look like when the competition proper gets underway next month.
Hennie Daniller has stolen the march on Springbok Bevin Fortuin for the fullback spot – although the latter remains in the wider Super 14 squad.
With injured Springbok flyer Jongi Nokwe only expected to return to training later this week, Danwel Demas and Fabian Juries are starting on the wings.
Import Corné Uys and Jacques-Louis Potgieter, a regular at flyhalf last year, will be in the centres. Springbok Meyer Bosman has moved to a more permanent position at flyhalf, after spending much of the past few years in the midfield, while his halfback partner will be Tewis de Bruyn, another player who has spent a considerable amount of time in the No.10 jersey last year.
The loose trio is an impressive unit – Frans Viljoen at No.8, along with two Bok flanks – Smith and Heinrich Brüssow.
At lock the Cheetahs look a touch thin, although David de Villiers and Nico Breedt are both seasoned campaigners. Kobus Calldo, Adriaan Strauss and Wian du Preez are the regular starting front row trio.
The Cheetahs’ backline coach, Hawies Fourie, said they have specific goals for Friday’s game – particularly in the backline – which looks much different from that which featured for the Cheetahs in the Super 14 and Currie Cup last year.
“We want to work through our attacking systems and see what we have to work on,” Fourie told rugby365.com.
“There are many things to work on – your kicking game is important and we must get that up to par.
“There is also our defence. We have worked hard on our defence, but you only really get tested when you play,” he said, adding that Griquas have a really good Vodacom Cup team and won’t be a walkover.
* Meanwhile it was confirmed that prop Coenie Oosthuizen, who injured his shoulder in last Friday’s trial game, will undergo surgery this week. That will most likely rule him out for the rest of the season.
Cheetahs: 15 Hennie Daniller, 14 Danwel Demas, 13 Corné Uys, 12 Jacques-Louis Potgieter, 11 Fabian Juries, 10 Meyer Bosman, 9 Tewis de Bruyn, 8 Frans Viljoen, 7 Juan Smith (captain), 6 Heinrich Brüssow, 5 David de Villiers, 4 Nico Breedt, 3 Kobus Calldo, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Wian du Preez.
Replacements – from: Richardt Strauss, Jean Botha, Wayne van Heerden, Hendro Scholtz, Sarel Pretorius, Hanno Coetzee, Piet van Zyl, Bjorn Basson
Date: Friday, January 23
Venue: Grey College, Bloemfontein
Kick-off: 17.00 (13.00 GMT)