Johannesburg - The Vodacom Cheetahs will be hoping that several young stars carry through the form they displayed in last year’s Absa Currie Cup into this year’s Vodacom Super 14 as they begin their preparations for the tournament in earnest.
The Cheetahs take on an Eastern Province Invitation XV at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium on Saturday in their first pre-season match, and have chosen a very strong side to have a run in the coastal air.
Apart from a handful of injured players, the side who will take the field is as close to the starting line-up that coaches Naka Drotske and Hawies Fourie would like to have, and will give them a good indication of what they can expect in the coming weeks.
“It’s vitally important for us that a number of players carry through their Currie Cup form to the Super 14,” he told Supersport.com, “In previous years we have lost games in the first four rounds with a point or two and we can’t seem to get onto the winning track.
“We’ll want the players to get their self-confidence up as quickly as possible before they take on the Bulls and try to get as many players on form as possible. We’ve set ourselves some goals in this game and we need to get the things right.”
Fourie will in particular be looking to the younger set of players – winger Lionel Mapoe, No 8 Ashley Johnson and scrumming twins Coenie Oosthuizen and WP Nel to get themselves in the type of form that made them hot property in the Currie Cup.
Mapoe should get enough ball on the day, while Johnson should revel in the loose trio with captain Juan Smith and burglar Heinrich Brussow. The two props will have enough chance to prove themselves on an afternoon where the Elephants are likely to be looking to make a point.
Also interesting will be the combination of Tewis de Bruyn and Sarel Pretorius at halfback, particularly as both players are actually competing for the scrumhalf position, but the injury list and De Bruyn’s versatility makes him an ideal stand-in at flyhalf.
Young Sias Ebersohn will also get a run at flyhalf, with Fourie set to keep a keen eye on his form during the match.
“With a couple of exceptions, this is basically our strongest side. We have a number of injured players, but this is a good chance for us to see where exactly we stand,” Fourie said, “And where we need to tweak a bit. We’re also going to keep a keen eye on the combinations on the field.
“Sias will get between 20-30 minutes of play and when he goes on, Tewis is likely to move to scrumhalf. We want to give them both a fair chance in the positions, and we’re currently training as if Naas Olivier won’t be fit for the first game. We don’t want to be caught with our pants down in the week of our first game.”
The Cheetahs have a fairly lengthy injury list, including Meyer Bosman, Robert Ebersohn, Louis Strydom, Naas Olivier and Phillip Snyman among the backs, while Francois Uys is the casualty among the forwards.
Hooker Adriaan Strauss could have played in the match, but was not included as a precaution as he continues to receive treatment for his shoulder injury.
The EP Invitation XV will be captained by former Bok De Wet Barry, who returned to his side this week after being drafted by the Vodacom Bulls.
Vodacom Cheetahs: Riaan Viljoen; Lionel Mapoe, Corne Uys, Barry Geel, Jonghi Nokwe; Tewis de Bruyn, Sarel Pretorius; Ashley Johnson, Juan Smith (capt), Heinrich Brussow, David de Villiers, Nico Breedt, WP Nel, Ryno Barnes, Coenie Oosthuizen
Reserves: Skipper Badenhorst, Albertus Buckle, Waltie Vermeulen, Frans Viljoen, Sias Ebersohn, Hennie Daniller, Danwel Demas
EP Invitation XV: Justin Peach; Luvuyo Mhlobiso, Jaco Bekker, De Wet Barry, Howard Noble; Ryan Brown, Marlon Lewis; Sivuyile Kobokana, Yves Bashiya, Zolani Mofu, Hein Potgieter, Brendon Snyman, Sangoni Mxoli, Robert Dyer, Pumlani Nodikida.
Reserves: Neil Jacobs, Patrick Mulamba, Nolan Clarke, Andries Smit, Sinethemba Jack, Matthewy Taylor-Smith, Christopher Juries.
Kick off: 17:00
Referee: Jonathan Kaplan