Smith leads Bloem into battle

Juan Smith will captain the Cheetahs in the Super 14 this year, taking over the reins from the retired Naka Drotske.

The Bok flank has earned 21 Test caps for the Boks and is one of the most respected players in the Free State franchise. He takes charge for the first time this Saturday against the Southern Spears in Port Elizabeth.

The Cheetahs kick off their Super 14 season at home against the Bulls on 10 February, in a rematch of last year’s Currie Cup final, but before then they play three warm-up matches against the Spears, the Western Force in Perth (21 January) and top Italian club side Treviso in Welkom (28 January). Erasmus regards the fixture against the Force as an ideal opportunity to see how his side copes with the demands of travelling.

The coach has selected a 26-man squad for Saturday’s game in PE and plans to give everyone a run.

With Hendro Scholtz still recovering from shoulder surgery, Kabamba Floors will pull on the No 6 jersey against the Spears and could even play against the Bulls in the Super 14. Tiaan Liebenberg starts at hooker, Os du Randt scrums down at loosehead, while Barend Pieterse and Corniel van Zyl resume their successful second-row partnership.

Among the backs, Bok halfbacks Michael Claassens and Meyer Bosman find themselves on the bench, with Willem de Waal partnering Falie Oelshig. Former SA U21 and Leopards centre Ronnie Cooke makes his Cheetahs debut, while ex-Pumas and Bulls winger Giscard Pieters wears the No 14 jersey.

“I want to see how the players react against the Spears in contact situations,” said Erasmus. “Players react differently in matches compared to training. It will take us a few games to get things right … at the moment we just want to gel into a unit.”

Cheetahs team to play Spears:

15 Bevin Fortuin, 14 Giscard Pieters, 13 Ronnie Cooke, 12 Barry Goodes, 11 Vayuni Dlomo, 10 Willem de Waal, 9 Falie Oelschig, 8 Darron Nell, 7 Juan Smith (c), 6 Kabamba Floors, 5 Barend Pieterse, 4 Corniel van Zyl, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Tiaan Liebenberg, 1 Os du Randt.

Subs: 16 Trevor Leota, 17 Ollie le Roux, 18 Wian du Preez, 19 Ockie van Zyl, 20 Heinrich Stride, 21 Frans Viljoen, 22 Ryno van der Merwe, 23 Michael Claassens, 24 Meyer Bosman, 25 Chris Kruger, 26 Dale Heidtmann.