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Super RugbyJust how the revised Super Rugby format will go down with the South African rugby public is unclear, but we won’t have to wait long to find out.

The new-look tournament gets underway in less than a month, with the Blues and the Highlanders kicking things off in Auckland on Friday 26 February 2016.

From a South African perspective, the road ahead looks a tough one and if local bookmakers are to be believed there is no standout side from within these borders that looks set to challenge for the title.

Outside of the tournament changes, the majority of the South African franchises have also undergone major alterations with only 2wo sides – the Cell C Sharks and Emirates Lions – heading into 2016 with the same coaches that did the business in 2015.

The Southern Kings, obviously, were not a part of the 2015 competition but they also have a new man at the helm.

Here, we look at the 6 men tasked with bringing success to their respective franchises:

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Franco Smith

Franco Smith

The Toyota Cheetahs know they have an uphill battle in this year’s Vodacom Super Rucompetition, but they have approached their mammoth task with a renewed amount of energy and are hoping they will reap the rewards for their efforts.

Since Franco Smith took over the team in the last 2 games of last season the side has shown some exceptional touches on attack, but their defence at times and their set piece play has often let them down, ensuring that a lot of the good work they do on the field is reduced because of poor defence.

Smith has worked hard on this with the team through the off-season and believes it is one of the biggest priorities for the team to address before the season gets under way.

While he admits the team is still a work-in-progress, the former Springbok playmaker is hopeful that strides made in physical conditioning and the work the management have put in with the side in the off-season will begin to bear fruit when the serious games begin next month.

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CheetahsThe Toyota Cheetahs have started their preparations for the 2016 Super Rugby tournament by naming a 51-man pre-season squad.

The squad features a number of players who featured in the ABSA Currie Cup this year, in coach Franco Smith’s debut season in charge.

Springbok Lood de Jager is included in the squad after returning from South Africa’s Rugby World Cup campaign in England.

They will be facing the team from Argentina in their 1st Super Rugby encounter for 2016 on 26 February.

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Teboho Mohoje

Teboho Mohoje

The Toyota Free State Cheetahs will have a new captain when they tackle the winless Eastern Province Kings in Port Elizabeth on Friday.

Teboho ‘Oupa’ Mohoje, who failed to make the Springbok Rugby World Cup squad, will lead the Free State Cheetahs out in this Round 6 encounter at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.

Mohoje takes over form regular captain Francois Uys, who will play off the bench on Friday.

The Springbok loose forward (Mohoje) and Henco Venter will be switching places – with Mohoje included in the starting line-up, with Venter on the bench.

Other changes to the pack will see Reniel Hugo starting at lock ahead of Uys.

Jacques du Toit will start at hooker ahead of Elandre Hugget, who drops down to the replacement bench.

The only backline change will see Springbok Cornal Hendricks make his Currie Cup debut for the Free State Cheetahs, replacing fellow Springbok discard Raymond Rhule on left wing.

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BG 'Burrie' Uys

BG ‘Burrie’ Uys

Toyota Free State Free State Cheetahs’ coach Franco Smith has made just 1 change to his team to take on DHL Western Province in Bloemfontein on Saturday.

Smith has opted for consistency, sticking with his troops that defeated Griquas 31 / 9 in Kimberly last weekend barring 1 change in the front row.

The change sees BG ‘Burrie’ Uys start at loosehead prop, while Caylib Oosthuizen moves to the bench in place of Maks van Dyk, who has been released to play for the Barbarians against Samoa in London.

Tertius Kruger also slots into the replacements, with the injured Tienie Burger missing out.

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Sergeal Petersen

Sergeal Petersen

Wing Sergeal Petersen is set to make his Toyota Free State Cheetahs Currie Cup debut for the showdown against ORC Griquas on Friday.

Petersen, who has now signed a full-time deal in Bloemfontein, has not featured yet for the Free State outfit in this years’ Currie Cup but will occupy the right wing position on Friday.

The 21-year-old has already made 5 Super Rugby appearnces for the Toyota Cheetahs and holds 3 Vodacom Cup caps for Free State, while he was on loan from the EP Kings.

Petersen’s inclusion sees Clayton Blommetjies move to fullback in place of the injured Adriaan Coertzen. Coertzen has been ruled out with an ankle injury.

The only other forced change to the starting line-up is Gerhard Olivier coming in at openside flank for the injured Boom Prinsloo (broken jaw).

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Free State CheetahsToyota Free State Cheetahs coach Franco Smith has named his team for their Currie Cup clash against DHL Western Province at Newlands on Saturday (15:00 SA Time kick-off).

Smith made 5 changes to his starting team from the one which lost 57 / 19 to the Vodacom Blue Bulls in Bloemfontein last weekend.

Fred Zeilinga, who was recently recruited from the Cell C Sharks, will start at flyhalf in place of Niel Marais, while AJ Coertzen replaces Coenie van Wyk at fullback.

Up front, Neil Jordaan will start at No 8, sending Gerhard Olivier to the bench.

Armandt Koster also replaces Willem Serfontein at lock, while Jacques du Toit comes in for Niel Raubenheimer at hooker.

Meanwhile, Elandre Hugget, Tertius Kruger and Sias Ebersohn are newcomers on the bench.

Ebersohn is back in Bloemfontein having spent the last few years at Australian franchise, the Western Force.

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Free State CheetahsVodacom Blue BullsFS Cheetahs (7) 19 / 57 (27) Blue Bulls (Final Score)

The Toyota Free State Cheetahs and Vodacom Blue Bulls did battle in the ABSA Currie Cup Premier Division at

Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein at 14:15 SA Time (12:15 GMT).

This was the live match discussion Article.

The match was broadcast LIVE on SuperSport 1 & M-Net on TV in SA.

*******************

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Franco Smith

Franco Smith

Toyota Free State Cheetahs coach Franco Smith has named his team for their ABSA Currie Cup opener against the Vodacom Blue Bulls in Bloemfontein on Saturday (14:15 SA Time kick-off).

Francois Uys, who led the team in Super Rugby, has retained the captaincy for the Currie Cup.

It’s a relatively inexperienced Cheetahs line-up, with left wing Raymond Rhule the only Springbok.

Niel Marais, who was a star for Shimlas in this year’s Varsity Cup, starts at flyhalf, with Shaun Venter at scrumhalf.

Up front, the Cheetahs will lean heavily on the experience of flank Boom Prinsloo as well as skipper Uys.

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Maks van Dyk

Maks van Dyk

The Eastern Province Kings’ stuttering build-up to the Currie Cup season had another wobble on Tuesday.

Despite the players’ outstanding salaries having been paid last week, prop Nicolaas ‘Maks’ van Dyk has abruptly ended his short stint in Port Elizabeth and headed back to Bloemfontein.

In a statement on Tuesday Eastern Province Rugby Union President Cheeky Watson confirmed the union and Van Dyk have mutually agreed to part ways.

The front row forward has decided to rejoin the Cheetahs ahead of the Currie Cup season.

The player’s departure comes just days before the Kings host the Golden Lions, 1 of the pre-tournament favourites, in the opening Round of the Currie Cup competition in Port Elizabeth on Saturday.

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Cornal Hendricks

Cornal Hendricks

Springbok winger Cornal Hendricks has signed a contract with Western Province Rugby and will be available for the DHL Stormers from the start of the 2016 Vodacom Super Rugby season.

The speedster, who originally made his name at international Sevens level, will return to his roots as a DHL Stormers player – having played his early provincial rugby for Boland, before becoming a full-time Sevens player in 2012 and then joining the Free State Cheetahs in 2014.

Hendricks, 27, made his Test debut in June of last year, whilst the 2013 Springbok Sevens Player of the Year was also a key member of the Commonwealth Games Gold medal-winning SA Sevens team in July 2014.

In all, he has played 11 Tests (as well as an additional match against the World XV) for the Springboks, scoring five tries – including a try on debut against Wales and a memorable solo score against the All Blacks in their hard-fought Rugby Championship tussle in Wellington in September 2014.

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William Small-Smith

William Small-Smith

Vodacom Bulls centre William Small-Smith will further his career at the Toyota Cheetahs from next season.

The 23-year-old will represent the Vodacom Blue Bulls in this year’s Currie Cup before heading for Bloemfontein in time for next year’s Super Rugby competition.

Small-Smith was schooled at Grey College in Bloemfontein where he represented Free State in the Craven Week.

After school, he represented teams like the Junior Springboks, Blitzbokke, UP-Tuks and the Vodacom Blue Bulls.

It is believed that Small-Smith wanted out at the Bulls and asked to join the Cheetahs.

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Sias Ebersohn

Sias Ebersohn

The Western Force has released flyhalf Sias Ebersohn from his contract, allowing him to return to his native South Africa.

The 26-year-old, who joined the Force from the Bloemfontein-based Toyota Cheetahs ahead of the 2013 Super Rugby season, has played 43 matches – scoring 212 points – across his 3 seasons for the Western Australian club.

Ebersohn has made a strong contribution to the club over the past 3 seasons, including playing a key role during the club’s most successful season in 2014.

However, leading into the 2016 season, the club identified the need to inject additional experience into its young backline, which coincided with an opportunity for Ebersohn to return to South Africa.

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Maks van Dyk

Maks van Dyk

Tighthead prop Maks van Dyk has completed his move to the EP Kings, where he hopes to make an impact in the Currie Cup and Super Rugby.

Van Dyk has been based at Griquas since last year, which saw him play Super Rugby for the Cheetahs in 2014 and 2015.

It’s been a notable rise for the former Junior Springbok front-rower, who was part of the South African squad that lifted the Under 20 World Championship trophy at Newlands in 2012.

From Durban (where he was based at the Sharks between 2011 and 2013) to Kimberley to Bloemfontein, the 23-year-old has a new home in Port Elizabeth, where he has signed a 2-year contract with the Kings.

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Super RugbyNow that the league phase of the Super Rugby tournament is finished, I have posted a SA team of the tournament article. The team is based on the form players during the tournament, with overseas based players obviously not considered.

The South African teams had a very disappointing tournament by any standards, with injuries, poor form and bad reffing decisions making life hard for the critical rugby public, but in an attempt to find a silver lining here is this author’s team of the tournament (other contenders mentioned where appropriate):

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Johann Sadie

Johann Sadie

Newly-promoted French Top 14 team, Agen, have signed South African centre Johann Sadie as they continue to build ahead of next season.

The 26-year-old arrives from Super Rugby side the Toyota Cheetahs and has signed a 2-year deal, the club confirmed.

Sadie started his career with Western Province before spells with the DHL Stormers, Vodacom Bulls and then the Toyota Cheetahs. In 2014, he started playing for the NTT Docomo Red Hurricanes in Japan but was allowed to return to Bloemfontein during the Super Rugby season.

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Willie le Roux

Willie le Roux

Willie le Roux will start at fullback for the Toyota Cheetahs in his last ever game for the Free-State franchise as they take on the Vodacom Bulls at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.

25-year-old Springbok fullback, Le Roux, will depart Bloemfontein after 3 years and 56 Super Rugby games with the franchise. At the conclusion of his Springbok obligations after the World Cup he will head to Japan for 3 months, after which he will join the Cell C Sharks.

Le Roux gets the nod ahead of Coenie van Wyk who drops down to the bench. The 2nd backline change sees Clayton Blommetjies start at right wing with Sergeal Petersen shifting to the left wing, replacing Cornal Hendricks.

In the forwards, Henco Venter will start at flank for Tienie Burger who drops out of the matchday squad.

The Cheetahs will welcome the return of Teboho Mohoje to the bench after he was sidelined for 3 months with a groin injury. Renier Botha also comes onto the bench in place of Shaun Venter.

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Philip van der Walt

Philip van der Walt

The Cell C Sharks are continuing to raid the ranks of the Toyota Cheetahs, with loose forward Philip van der Walt the latest capture.

It was confirmed that the 25-year-old, who had just returned from a stint with Biarritz in France, will join up with the Sharks before the start of the Currie Cup season in August.

Christoffel Philippus van der Walt, who played 80-odd games for the Cheetahs (Super Rugby) and Free State (Currie Cup), moved to Biarritz in 2014 – where he made 22 appearances.

Biarritz, with a rich history in French and European competitions, were crowned French champions 5 times – 1935, 1939, 2002, 2005 and 2006. They also beat Top 14 rivals Toulon 21 / 18 in the 2012 European Challenge Cup (secondary competition) in 2012.

However, Biarritz went into a major slump during the 2013 / 2014 Top 14 season and ended up being relegated to the Pro D2 (Second Division) for the 2014 / 2015 season.

The signing of Van der Walt is another coup for the Sharks, who are in the process of ‘rebuilding’ the team under the guidance of Director of Rugby Gary Gold – with several season players set to depart after this year’s World Cup.

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Willie le Roux

Willie le Roux

Springbok fullback Willie Le Roux has been included in the Cheetahs matchday 23 to face the Waratahs in Bloemfontein on Saturday.

Le Roux was a standout omission from new coach Franco Smith’s team announced earlier in the week but has now been included by taking the place of outgoing utility back Joe Pietersen on the bench.

This is the 2nd late change from the initial team after Varsity Cup star Gerhard Olivier was brought in for a potential debut off the bench as he replaces Willie Britz.

Smith decided to add a further 3 Varsity Cup players – 2 of which in the starting 15 – to the matchday team as he looks to rebuild the struggling franchise following a lacklustre 2015 campaign.

No 8 Niell Jordaan and flyhalf Neil Marais will make their Super Rugby debuts in the Cheetahs final home game of the campaign with prop Elandré Hugget starting the match on the bench.

In the forwards, Burrie Uys moves off the bench in a swap with Danie Mienie, while Tinie Burger and Johannes Prinsloo switch positions at the side of the scrum. Jordaan replaces Henco Venter at No 8 as the latter takes his place among the replacements.

Marais will be partnered with Sarel Pretorius as the halfback pairing while Springbok flyer Cornal Hendricks replaces the injured Raymond Rhule at left wing while Ryno Benjamin moves off the bench to take his place at inside centre, replacing Michael van der Spuy while Coenie van Wyk replaces Clayton Blommetjies, who misses the match altogether, at fullback.

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Niel Marais

Niel Marais

New Yoyota Cheetahs head coach, Franco Smith, has named his team to tackle the Waratahs in a Super Rugby clash in Bloemfontein on Saturday (15:00 SA Time).

It will be Smith’s 1st game in charge following the departure of Naka Drotske.

Smith has made several changes to the team that lost 42 / 12 to the DHL Stormers at Newlands last weekend.

In the backline, Niel Marais replaces Joe Pietersen at flyhalf. Marais was a star player for Shimlas in this year’s Varsity Cup, which they won under the coaching tutelage of Smith.

Sarel Pretorius is also back at scrumhalf, while Cornal Hendricks will start on the left wing, replacing Raymond Rhule who has a knee injury.

Rayno Benjamin also moves up from the bench, replacing Michael van der Spuy to start at inside centre this week, while Coenie van Wyk replaces Clayton Blommetjies at fullback.

Up front, BG Uys starts at loosehead prop, with Danie Mienie moving to the bench, while Tienie Burger and Boom Prinsloo swap places in the loose trio.

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Willie le Roux

Willie le Roux

Cornal Hendricks

Cornal Hendricks

With the player transfer window in South Africa looming large from 1 July, there is a lot of movement already in player signings.

Willie le Roux has opted not to renew with the Cheetahs and will in stead go to Japan for the remainder of the year after Super Rugby and International committments, whereafter he will return to South Africa but join the Cell C Sharks for the 2016 Super Rugby season.

Cornal Hendricks has also asked for permission to start negotiating with other interested parties, although the transfer window for negotiations will only be open from 1 July.

But the Cheetahs are not the only Franchise hit hard, at the Bulls, Francois Hougaard has signed in Japan for the Canon Eagles, the same Club which Willie le Roux has signed for and has not re-committed to the Bulls for Super Rugby in 2016.

Also at the Bulls, William Small-Smith has requested permission to also start early negotiations with 3rd parties, earlier than the 1 July Transfer Window’s opening.

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Naka Drotske

Naka Drotske

Although his time as Cheetahs coach ended on an underwhelming note at Newlands, Naka Drotske says he has ‘no regrets’.

There was not 1 Springbok in the Cheetahs side that went down 12 / 42 to the South African conference leaders on Saturday, bringing Drotske’s 9-year spell as coach to an end with Franco Smith set to take over.

While he was disappointed to end with a comprehensive defeat, Drotske said that they had simply been outplayed by a Stormers side he believes have what it takes to go all the way this year.

“Obviously today was a bit of a disappointment, but in saying that the Stormers played like a team that can win the competition and we had a lot of youngsters,” he said.

Looking back on his time in charge of the Cheetahs, Drotske said that he is more than satisfied with what he has achieved in a career he never expected.

“I have got no regrets, I started in 2007 as a coach, I took on the challenge. I never expected to be a coach after being a player and then a manager.

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Lood de Jager

Lood de Jager

The Toyota Cheetahs could be boosted by the return of several key players for their Super Rugby clash against the DHL Stormers on Saturday.

Lock Lood de Jager (elbow), scrumhalf Sarel Pretorius (shoulder), flyhalf Joe Pietersen (shoulder) and flank Tienie Burger (concussion) could all return to action in the clash at Newlands (17:05 SA Time).

No 8 Willie Britz, who injured his elbow in last weekend’s 40 / 17 defeat to the Lions, could also be ready to face the Stormers.

However, confirmation about the players’ availability will only be known later in the week.

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Os du Randt congratulated with the Verblitz deal

Os du Randt congratulated with the Verblitz deal

2-Time World Cup-winning Springbok Os du Randt will join Japanese club Verblitz in a new deal with the Cheetahs.

It was announced on Saturday that the 2 teams – the Toyota Cheetahs from Bloemfontein and the Verblitz side from Aichi in Japan – will exchange personnel.

The deal, established through the Toyota motor vehicle company that sponsors both teams, will see Du Randt become the forwards and scrum coach of Verblitz – as a 1st step of the partnership.

Following the exodus of South African players to Japan in recent years, this has been identified as an opportunity for both teams to foster talent.

It will see selected players and coaches being utilised – with players given the opportunity to play in Japan for the Verblitz club during their regular season (South Africa’s Currie Cup season) and return to play Super Rugby for the Toyota Cheetahs.

1 Of the main benefits of the programme include the joint contracting of players from outside the Cheetahs squad.

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Heinrich Brüssow

Heinrich Brüssow

Springbok flank Heinrich Brüssow has explained his decision to not extend his contract with the Cheetahs.

Brussow, 28, last week indicated that he won’t be extending his contract with the Cheetahs after this year’s Super Rugby competition.

He will only be available for his Japanese club, the Docomo Red Hurricanes, in 2016 and 2017, and not return to play Super Rugby as he has done in recent years.

“I feel I’m at a stage of my career where I have to look after my own body,” Brüssow said. “That’s why I have signed a 2-year contract in Japan. My new challenge is to take that club to a higher level and I’m going to focus all of my attention on that.”

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Os du Randt

Os du Randt

Naka Drotske

Naka Drotske

The Toyota Cheetahs will bid an early farewell to long-standing coaches Naka Drotské and Os du Randt.

It was confirmed last week that Franco Smith would take over as head coach of the struggling Cheetahs franchise next season.

However, he will take over from Drotské in a couple of weeks.

Drotské and Du Randt were to have seen out the remainder of the season, but on Tuesday it was revealed they will depart early.

Du Randt, a 2-times World Cup winner as a player, accepted a “very exciting” opportunity to coach abroad.

He will also act as an ambassador for the Cheetahs.

In a statement on Tuesday the Cheetahs confirmed that Du Randt will depart the franchise during the 1st week of June.

The details of his new position will be revealed at a media briefing at the Free State Stadium, in Bloemfontein, on Saturday.

The Cheetahs host the Lions in what will be Du Randt’s final home game before his departure.

As a result of Du Rand’s early departure, Drotské has also requested an early release.

Both Du Rand and Drotské will be in charge for the last time when the Toyota Cheetahs face the DHL Stormers in Cape Town on 30 May.

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Sarel Pretorius

Sarel Pretorius

Joe Pietersen

Joe Pietersen

The Toyota Cheetahs will be without 2 key players when they take on the Highlanders in Bloemfontein on Saturday.

Star scrumhalf Sarel Pretorius and utility back Joe Pietersen have both been ruled out through injury.

The teams shows several changes from that beat the South African conference leaders, the DHL Stormers, a fortnight ago.

Tian Meyer will be starting at scrumhalf in the place of Pretorius, who hasn’t recovered from his shoulder injury. Shaun Venter comes onto the bench as scrumhalf cover.

Francois Brummer moves up from the bench, replacing Pietersen – who is also sidelined with a shoulder injury. Coenie van Wyk comes onto the bench to fill the void left by Brummer’s promotion.

The only other change to the starting fifteen will see Danie Mienie replacing Caylib Oosthuizen at loosehead prop. Oosthuizen drops out of the matchday 23.

Springbok wing Raymond Rhule also returns from injury and gets a spot on the bench.

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