Cheetahs coach Naka Drotske has lined up a series of testing warm-up matches to help him settle on his best squad and ensure that his team starts the new Super Rugby season with a bang.
Drotske confirmed to this website that his side have replaced the Sharks in the traditional pre-season Tri-series to be held in Cape Town, and with those clashes with the Lions and the Stormers sandwiched between games against the Kings and the Bulls, the Cheetahs' engine should be humming by the time Super Rugby kicks off.
Drotske explained that he jumped at the opportunity to take an extended squad down to Cape Town as it will provide the players with valuable game-time against quality opposition as well as giving him an opportunity to settle on his strongest squad.
He said: "We got a call just before Christmas, on the 22nd or 23rd of December, and we accepted because we were looking for a game in that first weekend in February, so it suited us."
"I think it will be good especially because we can take 35 players," added the Cheetahs boss.
In recent years the Cheetahs have not played as many warm-up games and have tended to start the season on the back foot - something that Drotske hopes to turn around this year with a game against the Kings in Port Elizabeth and the Bulls in Polokwane a week after the Tri-series.
He said: "We basically have the game against the Kings on the 28th of January, and then we have got the two games down in Cape Town and on the 11th of February we play the Bulls so we have got enough warm-up games this year.
"In the past we have been slow starters and we have decided that we should play a few more warm-up games especially as the Super Rugby squad is a new group with the Griquas guys joining us again," Drotske explained.
The Cheetahs coach is expecting his players back at training on Monday, January 9 when they will start their technical preparations in earnest following an intense period before the year-end break in which they worked hard on their fitness.
"We trained until the 16th of December and then we gave the guys a break and we will start again this coming Monday.
"From now on we will focus more on the technical stuff - gameplans, scrums, line-outs and defence - whereas up until the 16th of December we were focused more on conditioning," he said.
Drotske revealed that he still has to make a few calls on the make-up of his final squad, which means that there should be plenty of fierce competition in the warm-up games between fringe players looking to impress him and get their hands on a Super Rugby jersey.
"In a lot of the positions we know what we wanted, but there are still four or five positons where there is a lot of competition and it is very close so that is why it will be great to have a few warm-up games to make sure we have picked the best team.
"We are taking two teams, and we will be playing four warm-up games, so each player will get two games to prove himself. So when we get to our first Super Rugby game against the Lions we will be 100% sure of the right team," said Drotske.
Cheetahs Super Rugby warm-up fixtures
January 28 v Kings in Port Elizabeth
January 31 v Lions in Cape Town
February 4 v Stormers in Cape Town
February 11 v Bulls in Polokwane
By Michael de Vries
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