The most anticipated and welcome news for any Cheetah and Juan Smith supporter is the fact that he makes his return to the Cheetahs Super Rugby squad for 2013 after more than a year out of any form of competitive rugby.
Specialist fetcher Heinrich Brussow is also back and fully fit for the tournament ahead. Johan Goosen does not need any corrective surgery on the heel that has given him some trouble after his return from his midseason shoulder injury in 2012. Coenie Oosthuizen is also back from injury.
Although they lost nearly their entire second row, the Cheetahs have found some quality replacements. The loss of WP Nel might haunt them for the season, it must be said though that Trevor Nyakane has impressed during the Currie Cup and I am full of hope he will become an integral part of the Cheetah front row.
In the backs, the return of Sarel Pretorius will certainly lift the unpredictability of the Cheetah attack, but he will be under some pressure as Piet van Zyl just got better and better during the 2012 Currie Cup.
Johan Goosen is obviously the man most are interested in, as he showed much promise last year in a season riddled with injury. Nobody will look forward to playing alongside Goosen more than Johann Sadie, who was starved of rugby during his season at the Bulls last year.
The Cheetahs have always played the most entertaining rugby of all the South African franchises, however their defence has also been their weakest attribute for some time now.
I expect the Cheetah backline to once again be up there when it comes to try scoring and with players such as Goosen, Sadie, Willie Le Roux and speedster Raymond Rhule in the backline they will be very dangerous indeed.
It is the back row of the Cheetahs that I look forward to most of all, Heinrich Brussow, Smith and Frans Viljoen could possibly be one of the form back rows of the tournament.
So how will they go in Super Rugby 2013?
Going on their recent history the Cheetahs are not afraid to travel, their successes against foreign teams over the past two seasons of Super Rugby is well documented. The challenge for them will be to gain more log points against their opponents in the local derbies, the only reason they didn’t make the play offs last year.
They should have no trouble to gain 10 log points from the Kings, not with a fully fit team, and that should be their aim. Then win two of their other three home games against the Bulls, Sharks or Stormers.
I expect them to do one better than last year, in with an outside chance of making the play offs as long as injuries don’t play a significant role in their season, as their squad depth has always been a problem.
The Cheetahs’ biggest challenge has always been how to hold on to star players, and considering the number of players they lost last year continuity will always be a factor.
Ultimately the biggest question is whether head coach Naka Drotske will be able to get his team to play as a collective.
Props: Trevor Nyakane, Caylib Oosthuizen, Coenie Oosthuizen, Rossouw de Klerk and Lourens Adriaanse.
Hookers: Adriaan Strauss, Ryno Barnes and Hercu Liebenberg.
Locks: Lood de Jager, Andries Ferreira, Ligtoring Landman and Francois Uys.
Flanks: Juan Smith, Frans Viljoen, Heinrich Brüssow, Lappies Labuschagne, Boom Prinsloo, Phillip van der Walt and Davon Raubenheimer.
Scrumhalves: Piet van Zyl, Sarel Pretorius and Tewis de Bruyn.
Flyhalves: Johan Goosen, Elgar Watts and Francois Brummer.
Centres: Robert Ebersohn, Johann Sadie and Barry Geel.
Wings: Rayno Benjamin, Rocco Jansen and Raymond Rhule.
Fullbacks: Hennie Daniller and Willie le Roux.
Utility Backs: Riaan Smit and Hansie Graaff.