Injured props a concern for Cheetahs
PRE-SEASON SPOTLIGHT: Not only will the Cheetahs start the season without their captain and another centre, but two props are set to miss the entire season.
Cheetahs coach Franco Smith told rugby365 that tighthead is the biggest concern for him.
Props Luan de Bruin (lumbar disc) and Erich de Jager (plantar fasciitis) will both miss the entire season with injuries.
Centre William Small-Smith (hand fracture) and captain Francois Venter (ankle) will also miss the opening rounds of the competition with injuries.
However, Smith expects the two midfielders to be available from week three or four.
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.
Small-Smith fractured three fingers on his right hand at training in January - after missing almost the entire 2016 Super Rugby season with a foot injury.
The Cheetahs are most likely to start with the impressive Nico Lee and Michael van der Spuy in the midfield against the Lions in Bloemfontein on February 25.
They also have Ali Mgijima and Lihleli Xoli to fall back on, while Sevens Springbok Ryno Benjamin is equally at home in midfield and on the wing.
However, prop is where the real problem lies.
De Bruin suffered a disc bulge (commonly referred to as slipped disc), which can press against or irritate the nerve where it exits from the spine.
De Jager tore a muscle in his foot, near his heel - an injury called a plantar fasciitis, which is one of the most common causes of heel pain. It involves inflammation of a thick band of tissue that runs across the bottom of your foot and connects your heel bone to the toes.
The fit props in the Cheetahs squad are Tom Botha, Johan Coetzee, Retshegofaditswe Nché, Günther Janse van Vuuren, Charles Marais and Danie Mienie.
The Cheetahs had a final pre-season run against the Griffons earlier this week.
They fielded two teams, one in each half.
While the session took place in the Free State Stadium and referee Marius van Rensburg was in charge, the coach said no scores were kept and no conversions were taken.
"It was more a contact training session than a match," Smith said, adding the goal to ensure the 'intensity' was high.
By Jan de Koning