Coach Franco Smith has named lock Reniel Hugo to lead out a very young Toyota Cheetahs team to face the Vodacom Bulls in their pre-season friendly for the Lafarge Zimbabwe Champions Cup in Harare on Saturday.
Hugo will lead a team that is missing most of its first choice players, as Smith looks to give his wider squad a run in an attempt to gauge their strength ahead of a long and challenging season.
Flanker Tienie Burger, loosehead Danie Mienie, flyhalf Niel Marais and winger Clayton Blommetjies will be the most recognisable names in a side that include a number of players who formed part of the Varsity Cup competition last year.
The match represents a warm-up for the Super Rugby season.
Players such as season captain Francois Venter, flyhalf Fred Zeilinga, hooker Torsten van Jaarsveld, prop Maks van Dyk and winger Raymond Rhule are all on the bench.
The team will fly to Harare on Friday and face the Southern Kings next weekend in their second and final pre-season game before they open their campaign against the Argentinian Jaguares in Bloemfontein on February 26.
Bullied in the contact phases last year, the Cheetahs are hoping to reveal a tougher exterior in their first pre-season friendly – against the abrasive Bulls in Harare on Saturday.
Smith will also be hoping the changes made in the off-season will manifest themselves in a firmer resolve against the former champions.
Equally, getting his players to understand a gameplan more tailored to retention of possession than a kicking-orientated strategy they had become accustomed to, has required some doing.
Smith is happy with what they’ve done in the off- season but coaches tend to sit uneasy until plans and strategies are tested under match conditions.
The Cheetahs start their pre-season commitments against the Bulls before travelling to Victoria Falls for a break.
From there they will fly to Port Elizabeth to play the Southern Kings next Friday.
They will have to do so without four of their senior players. Lock Francois Uys has just returned from Japan, loose forward Willie Britz has had a hand operation,
Wing Rayno Benjamin and utility forward Oupa Mohoje are still on the mend from injuries they suffered last year.
Smith said Britz and Mohoje would definitely miss the start of the competition while Benjamin had a 50% chance of being fully fit in time. The Cheetahs face a youthful Bulls side captained by 22-year-old lock Marvin Orie.
Cheetahs: Gerrie Labuschagne, Ruan van Rensburg, Reinhardt Erwee, Michael van der Spuy, Clayton Blommetjies, Niel Maries, Tian Meyer, Henco Venter, Tienie Burger, Paul Schoeman, Renier Hugo (captain), Armandt Koster, Luan de Bruin, Jacques du Toit, Danie Mienie.
Replacements: Torsten van Jaarsveld, Charles Marais, Maks van Dyk, Hilton Lobberts, Carl Wegner, Niell Jordaan, Shaun Venter, Francois Venter, Fred Zeilinga, Raymond Rhule.
– African News Agency (ANA)