The Cheetahs are hoping to get their crop of injured Springboks back in action before they head overseas on their crucial early-season tour.
The Free State side open their Super Rugby season with a home game against the Sharks before they travel to Australasia on a tour which could well define their season, so it is no surprise that they are anxiously monitoring the fitness of star players Juan Smith, Heinrich Brussow, Coenie oosthuizen and Johan Goosen.
With those four Boks at their disposal the Cheetahs have a serious chance of throwing off the early-season sluggishness that has plagued them in previous campaigns, so the fitness of the star quartet will be of primary concern in the next few weeks.
Cheetahs assistant coach Hawies Fourie explained to this website that although all four have different timeframes for their expected recovery, the Cheetahs are hopeful that they will all be available for their first game on tour against the Chiefs in Hamilton on March 2.
Smith has been out of action for the best part of two years with an Achilles injury, and will make his first tentative steps in his comeback this weekend when he will be used off the bench in the pre-season game against the Stormers.
Fourie commented: "Juan is doing well so he will get a bit of game-time this weekend, he will play maybe 15, max 20 minutes and then we will give him some game-time against the Bulls again next week."
Brussow underwent shoulder surgery in October and may be available for the Chiefs clash along with Oosthuizen who has been battling a recurring neck issue, but the prognosis is better for Goosen who is expected to recover from his knee injury in time to make an appearance against the Bulls next weekend.
"Heinrich might only be ready for the first game on tour, we will try to get him ready for the Sharks game but he won't be able to play in any of the warm-up games.
"Coenie will start training with the team from next week onwards but we will phase him in, especially with the contact and scrumming sessions - we will take it slowly so I think he won't be able to play next weekend against the Bulls but hopefully he will be ready for about 30 minutes against the Sharks.
"Goosen will be ready to come back against the Bulls so he might play a half next week, which will be great for us," said Fourie.
The Cheetahs backline coach stressed the need to make a strong start to their season, as they have had to try and play catch-up too many times in the past.
With that in mind the Cheetahs management are intent on using their pre-season fixtures to look closely at all the options available and ensure that they take the form players overseas when they pack for New Zealand.
"When the competition starts we need to start better than previous seasons so we need to pick the guys that are on form at the moment.
"We play the Chiefs just after the Sharks and it is always a tough trip to travel there so you have to pick guys that are on form when you go overseas, you can't give them two or three games to warm up," he said.
As a result the team to face the Stormers this weekend shows 14 changes from the side that ran out to face the Lions last week, with a number of Griquas players getting an opportunity to stake a claim for a spot in the touring squad.
Fourie said that whilst the star quality of their Springboks will be an important factor this year, they also need reliable depth to ensure that they are able to roll with the inevitable punches.
"That is the strength that the Griquas add to our Super Rugby team, they add a lot of depth to our squad and a lot of competition for places as well," he explained.
By Michael de Vries