Cheetahs coach Naka Drotske is determined to add some grit and determination to his team's fast-paced attacking game in order to take them from entertaining also-rans to a serious force in Super Rugby this year.
After the Cheetahs suffered a shocking start to the Super Rugby season last year with injuries to a number of key players putting them on the backfoot from the word go Drotske and the brains trust in Bloemfontein took a decision to play a more expansive game..
That bold move transformed the Cheetahs into the neutral's favourite and it seemed to be paying dividends with the men from the Free State landing big blows in their victories over the Waratahs in Sydney and the Crusaders in Bloemfontein.
However, despite their crowd-pleasing style and ability to break any game wide open the Cheetahs still lacked consistency and a leaky defence seemed to let through just as many tries as they scored.
Drotske has pledged not to abandon the exciting brand of rugby that made so many sit up and take note of his team last year, but he is well aware that there is room for improvement and would love to add a solid defence and determined attitude to the equation.
He told this website: "The approach will be exactly the same, we managed to score the second-most points in the competition last year - only one point behind the Crusaders - so we are doing something right on attack.
"I think the key issue will be to get our defence to the same level and to win the 50/50 matches. We lost nine games last year by less than seven points so that is unnacceptable - you need to win at least 50% of those games," added Drotske.
Skipper Juan Smith returned to training this week following a long period on the sidelines with an Achilles injury, and the presence of the Cheetahs talisman and Heinrich Brussow in the starting line-up should go some way to tightening up their defensive game.
Apart from the return of those proven performers on the side of the scrum the Cheetahs will also be anxious to see how some of the exciting talents they unearthed in the Currie Cup last year take to Super Rugby.
SA Under-20 flyhalf Johan Goosen is expected to make a big impact on the competition, but there are others like nippy scrumhalf Piet van Zyl and loosehead prop Marcel van der Merwe who will also want to show that they can mix it with the big boys.
Drotske is hopeful that the young guns, along with the returning Springbok flanks, will be able to make up for the loss of Sarel Pretorius and Riaan Viljoen who were such a vital part of the Cheetahs attacking game last season.
"It is bad to lose players like Sarel Pretorius and Riaan Viljoen, they played a huge part in our attacking way of playing, but there are a few youngsters who have really shown a lot of potential in the Currie Cup and it will be interesting to see if they can make the step up," he said.
With so much talent running around in Bloemfontein the Cheetahs are sure to get some pulses racing this season, but it is perhaps their attitude which will define their campaign as they seek to deliver on their considerable potential.
It is something that does not escape Drotske who gives one the strong sense that just being competitive is no longer good enough for his side.
"Last year if we had won at least half of those 50/50 games, especially the ones that we were leading with a few minutes to go, we could have been middle of the log.
"We definitely want to improve and finish in the top half of the log," he said.
By Michael de Vries
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