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Toyota Cheetahs

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Toyota CheetahsThe Toyota Cheetahs will play a friendly game against Japanese club Toyota Verblitz later this year.

The game, to be played on Friday 23 July in Japan, will serve as preparation for the Japan Top League and Currie Cup competitions.

The match will further strengthen the friendship ties between the 2 teams – who share the same sponsor.

At the end of the 2014 season and after losing a number of players because of limited funding, Free State Cheetahs (Pty) Ltd established a programme whereby players could play in Japan during the Currie Cup season and return to play for the Toyota Cheetahs’ Super Rugby franchise at the conclusion of the Japanese league.

By having Toyota as a sponsor it enabled Free State Rugby to engage freely with Verblitz, a Toyota owned club in Japan.

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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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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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