Cheetahs captain in race against time
INJURY UPDATE: Regular Cheetahs captain Francois Venter is in a race against time to return before that start of the season.
Venter, who first injured his ankle during the Currie Cup season and aggravated it on the South Africa's year-end tour, underwent surgery in December.
He was expected to be sidelined for three months, which meant he would have missed the Currie Cup champions' first few Super Rugby games.
However, Cheetahs coach Franco Smith told rugby365 that will be sidelined for another three to four weeks - making his return much sooner than anticipated.
It is unlikely, but possible, that his rapid recovered could see him being available for their opening match of the season - against the Lions in Bloemfontein on February 25.
The only other significant issue is an illness currently preventing lock Carl Wegner from training.
However, the coach said he should be fine by the end of the week.
"We have some minor niggles, but nothing serious," Smith said.
The team returned to training this week, after the Christmas break, and the coach said pre-season is going very well.
"We have a specific plan," he told rugby365, adding: "[It is] a combination of fitness and contact, but very match specific."
The Cheetahs have a mostly settled squad, with not too many significant departures - Bok lock Lodewyk de Jager's decision to join the Bulls probably the big news.
Other regulars who will not be available this season include prop Nicolaas van Dyk (to Toulouse), hooker Neil Rautenbach (to Stormers), loose forward Willie Britz (to Sunwolves), flyhalf Sias Ebersohn (to Pumas) and fullback Coenie van Wyk (to Toshiba Brave Lupus).
Noteworthy new recruits include prop Tom Botha (from Kings), loose forward Junior Pokomela (from Kings), flyhalf Ryno Eksteen (from Stormers) and centre Lihleli Xoli (from Ikey Tigers).
The Cheetahs will play just two pre-season matches - against the Stormers in Harare (January 28) and Sharks in Durban (February 3).
By Jan de Koning'