The Cheetahs, determined to make the Super Rugby play-offs for the first time, are engaged in an enormous internal battle for places in the team.
Springbok talisman Heinrich Brüssow, who has recovered from his rib injury and will be available for the team's first pre-season outing against the Kings in Port Elizabeth next week, said the team is perfectly poised ahead of their 2012 campaign.
The Cheetahs face the Kings on January 28, then tackle the Stormers in Cape Town a week later and the Bulls in Polokwane on February 11.
According to Brüssow the Cheetahs are determined to produce their best season ever and with an extended squad they are in a great position.
Apart from cover for possible injuries, the enlarged squad has another benefit - more competition for places.
"I am very positive," Brüssow told the Bloemfontein-based radio station OFM, when asked about the team's play-off prospects.
"We have started with a very big group this year," he said, adding: "The [Super Rugby] competition, now that it [the season] is so much longer, is a very physical competition, so it is important to have a large group for depth to fall back on later in the season when the injuries start.
"In that regard we have done our homework.
"[The coaching staff of] Naka [Drotské], Os [du Randt] and Hawies [Fourie], with the players they brought in, means we have a very large group and that helps a lot."
He said the pre-season training, from their first get-together back in December, has gone very well.
"The players worked very hard and the fitness levels are high," Brüssow told OFM.
"There is competition in the team for places and the players are pushing each other very hard.
"They are trying to prove to the coaches that they are fitter than the other players.
"Despite the competition for places in certain positions the players have remained friends and that is one of the stand-out features of this group."
The Cheetahs head coach, Drotské, said that with one or two exceptions, all the players will be available for the pre-season matches.
"I am confident that [prop] Coenie [Oosthuizen] will be fit for the opening match and I am waiting to see if [flank] Juan Smith will be ready, but the rest will be available," Drotské said, adding that he feels they have the right group of players to go to the play-offs.
Oosthuizen suffered a serious neck injury in the thrilling Round 12 Currie Cup draw with the table-topping Lions in Bloemfontein in October and underwent surgery.
Smith missed the Boks' World Cup campaign when he failed to recover from a long-term Achilles injury.
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