Bloemfontein - Cheetahs coach Franco Smith has set his side goals for their pre-season outings against the Bulls and Southern Kings but victories aren't necessarily the most important part of them.
Smith will take a group of 33 players up to Zimbabwe in the next week for their pre-season game against the Vodacom Bulls on February 6 but has already said the "warm-up" games are not trials where players feel they need to impress.
The Cheetahs coach would rather see combinations beginning to flourish than trying to have individuals catch the eye.
Smith is very aware that the Cheetahs will take a massive step-up in terms of intensity when the revamped 18-team Vodacom Super Rugby competition starts next month, and rather wants his team to be ready for what they will face from across the world.
"The warm-up games are exactly what it says – to warm-up. I'm not really concerned as to what they are going to do. We will be well prepared contact-wise. The important thing is that the players get confidence in what we are doing," Smith said.
"I don't want to see if the players can do what we want them to do, that I've seen already. That was the benefit of the Currie Cup. They know exactly what we want, but it is just to adapt to the game intensity which will be important to me.
"What we want in these games is not for players to prove who is and who isn't good enough – these aren't trials. We are going to go out there and prepare everyone as well as we can in terms of game intensity as we are going into the competition two weeks later.
"The aim isn't to see what works and what doesn't work. Obviously we want to see where we are at, but the main thing will be to get some contact under the belt and be ready for the game intensity we will face."
Smith is happy with the preparation his team has done thus far in the pre-season and has placed a significant emphasis on conditioning, hoping that the players are stronger than they have been in previous competitions.
"Everybody has worked hard. We've set ourselves certain goals physically as one of the things we noticed last year is that the guys were perhaps not that strong physically, due to the fact that they are young. They weren't as strong in the contact as they should be," he explained.
"There was a big emphasis on that, and on conditioning for the intensity on what we want to play at. The players worked hard."
The Cheetahs coach had the team for the final two games of Super Rugby last year and the Currie Cup season, and now wants the next phase of his plans to slowly fall into place. For this reason he will not be cutting the squad too quickly, keeping those involved in the Currie Cup with the team for as long as possible.
"If you ask someone to give their heart then it is difficult to tell them they aren't going on. So the cut date is a difficult one for me, but I'm still going to keep these guys training with us for as long as possible," he added. "Because this is the first time we have the franchise ourselves, it will mean the group that trains with us will also go into the Currie Cup together. They won't have another pre-season later in the year."
The Cheetahs will open their Super Rugby season against new entrants from Argentina, the Jaguares on February 26 in Bloemfontein.
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