The Cheetahs historic Guinness Pro14 debut will tackle the double Irish challenge of Ulster and Munster.
The Cheetahs, who lead the Currie Cup table after six matches, will have their player depth tested to the maximum as five of the first six Pro14 matches clash with Currie Cup scheduling. The Cheetahs will field teams in both competitions on the same weekend, similar to how they managed the playing schedule in Super Rugby and the SuperSport Challenge.
The Cheetahs, one of the bookies pre-tournament favourites, will play Ulster in Belfast on Friday and then play champion Irish side Munster a week later. Former Cheetahs coach Rassie Erasmus is still the Director of Rugby at Munster and will see out the next few months before returning to South Africa to start as the National Teams Director of Rugby.
Erasmus’s Munster topped the Pro 12 table last season but lost in the final against the Scarlets.
Cheetahs Director of Rugby Rory Duncan acknowledged it was a baptism of fire for his squad but he also embraced the tough start to their campaign.
‘Up to the launch it has been a lot of preparation, focusing on the Currie Cup campaign and getting the logistics of Pro rugby underway,’ he said. ‘But being here in this environment, it feels real and very exciting.
‘There is a lot of excitement in our player group, we have a young group which is a positive.
‘The guys get very excited about travelling, about playing away from home and we are team that does travel relatively well so there is a healthy buzz in amongst our guys.
‘We have not really established an end point or an outcome to aim for as yet, what we are doing is what we do with every campaign and that is take it one game at a time.
‘We focus on the outcome of that weekend, all the preparation and everything is geared towards getting that win. And that will continue into the Guinness PRO14.
‘Everyone wants to know how we compare to the teams up north – now they have got an opportunity.’
Cheetahs’ 28-man squad: Charles Marais, Ox Nche, Joseph Dweba, Jacques du Toit, Torsten van Jaarsveld, Erich de Jager, Aranos Coetzee, Tom Botha, Justin Basson, Armandt Koster, Reniel Hugo, Rynier Bernardo, Paul Schoeman, Henco Venter, Gerhard Olivier, Niell Jordaan, Shaun Venter, Tian Meyer, Zee Mkhabela, Cecil Afrika, Robbie Petzer, Makazole Mapimpi, Ali Mgijima, William Small-Smith, Rayno Benjamin, Rosko Specman, Sergeal Petersen, Clayton Blommetjies