With the Cheetahs hosting the opener in the competition this afternoon, their coach Naka Drotske made it clear this week they want to improve on their impressive sixth place finish last year.
“All our conditioning was done in pre-season and this week was all about fine-tuning a few technical aspects,” he said.
“There will always be pressure and we’ve made it our goal to use last year as an incentive to perform even better and not to disappoint our sponsors and spectators.”
This competition historically sees teams starting slowly out of the blocks and in this regard Cheetahs’ playmakers, fullback Willie le Roux and flyhalf Johan Goosen could be game-breakers. The Cheetahs have only one debutant in the speedy former Blitzbok star Cornal Hendricks, but scrumhalf Shaun Venter also plays his first game for the White Tornados but he did feature for the Kings last season.
The Lions, with 11 debutants will bring excitement and innovation in their game plan with players like inside centre Stefan Watermeyer and fullback Chryzander Botha, but the lack of experience seems to tip the scales in the Cheetahs’ favour.
If there’s one channel where the Lions might want to target the home team is the channel between Goosen and inside centre Francois Venter.
Drotske admits that you don’t replace a centre like Robert Ebersohn overnight.
“Swys (Venter) is a gifted player with very good feet and hands, although it’s always difficult to replace somebody of Robert’s calibre,” said Drotske.
Kick-off is at 5.05pm.