The Cheetahs’ final Super Rugby Unlocked game against Griquas in Bloemfontein on Saturday is essentially the start of their Currie Cup campaign.
Having been rocked by player departures and injuries the team will field a new captain in lock Carl Wegner after flank Junior Pokomela was ruled out on Friday with a wrist injury, his place being taken by Aidon Davis.
The good news is the electric Rhyno Smith returns on the right wing after scoring 13 tries in 10 ProRugby games earlier this year, while veteran former Lions and Griquas centre Howard Mnisi will make his debut in midfield.
The Cheetahs started their campaign on a high with wins at home against the Pumas and the Bulls, but then things fell apart somewhat. Their cancelled game against the Lions (because of Covid) was followed by a bye and two straight losses – against the Sharks and Stormers away from home.
The Cheetahs also went through a transitional period following the departure of three players during the course of their campaign – lock Walt Steenkamp, centre Benhard Janse van Rensburg and No 8 Jasper Wiese all left at the end of October.
This weekend will also see the departure of lock JP du Preez, who is off to the Sale Sharks, while the currently injured prop Luan de Bruin is also off to join the Leicester Tigers.
Cheetahs coach Hawies Fourie, however, said he and his team would now turn their attention to the Currie Cup, which starts next week. The men from Bloemfontein are the defending champions.
Fourie stressed the importance of picking up as many points as possible this weekend and to finish ahead of the Lions on the points table.
Griquas are winless after five defeats but they will be in good spirits and will want to end their campaign on a high.
Cheetahs: Clayton Blommetjies, Rhyno Smith, Howard Mnisi, Frans Steyn, Rosko Specman, Tian Schoeman, Tian Meyer, Jeandré Rudolph, Aidon Davis, Andisa Ntsila, Carl Wegner (capt), Ian Groenewald, Hencus van Wyk, Reinach Venter, Boan Venter. Bench: Jacques du Toit, Cameron Dawson, Khutha Mchunu, Oupa Mohoje, Chris Massyn, Ruben de Haas, Reinhardt Fortuin, William Small-Smith.
Griquas: Masixole Banda, Ederies Arendse, Harlon Klaasen, Johnathan Francke, Eduan Keyter, Tinus de Beer, Zak Burger (capt), Carl Els, Stefan Willemse, Gideon van der Merwe, Cameron Lindsay, Adré Smith, 3 Ewald van der Westhuizen, HJ Luus, Mox Mxoli. Bench (from): Monde Hadebe, Andrew Beerwinkel, Madot Mabokela, Ewan Coetzee, CJ Velleman, Theo Maree, André Swarts, Daniel Kasende, Bandisa Ndlovu, Sibabalo Qoma, Ashlon Davids.