Super Rugby: The Cheetahs take on the Lions in opening match
The Cheetahs entertain the Lions as the two South African sides get the Super 15 season underway in Bloemfontein.
Last Updated: 15/02/14 9:41pm
Naka Drotske's Bloemfontein-based Cheetahs were the surprise side last year, finishing sixth overall to reach the play-offs after many campaigns that involved bottom-half struggle.
The Johannesburg-based Lions return to Super rugby after a one-year absence after finishing last in the 2012, but few are giving them a chance of performing even moderately.
Springbok full-back Willie le Roux is included as the Cheetahs benefit from a fully-fit squad for the start of their campaign.
Fellow international Johan Goosen, who sustained knee ligament damage against the Waratahs last term, makes a long-awaited return to the side after an injury lay-off. Shaun Venter joins the Springbok to form the Cheetahs axis partnership.
New signing Francis Venter, who joined from the Bulls during the off-season, will make his bow in the midfield, inside centre Johann Sadie.
Caylib Oosthuizen's pre-season form earns him a call-up at loosehead prop ahead of Spingbok Trevor Nyakane, who Drotske has called to prove his credentials when given the opportunity.
Flanker Boom Prinsloo has been named in the starting XV, while former Bulls loose forward Jean Cook could make an appearance off the bench.
Lions coach Johan Ackermann has named a side containing six debutants for the clash.
There are caps for Chrysander Botha, Marnitz Boshoff, Franco Mostert, Julian Redelinghuys, Robbie Coetzee and Schalk van der Merwe.
Stefan Watermeyer gets the nod ahead of regular Alwyn Hollenbach while captain Warren Whiteley, loose forwards Jaco Kriel and Derick Minnie and Springbok lock Franco van der Merwe are the experienced figureheads in the line-up.
And Ackermann insists his team's unknown factor can be used an advantage when they take on the Cheetahs.
"They can look back at what we did last year, but they don't know what to expect and what level we will be, and what areas we will challenge them in," Ackermann said. "We hope that we can compete and don't disappoint."
Cheetahs: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 Johann Sadie, 12 Francois Venter, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Johan Goosen, 9 Shaun Venter; 1 Caylib Oosthuizen, 2 Adriaan Strauss (capt), 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 4 Lood de Jager, 5 Francois Uys, 6 Boom Prinsloo, 7 Lappies Labuschagne, 8 Philip van der Walt.
Replacements: 16 Ryno Barnes, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Maks van Dyk, 19 Ligtoring Landman, 20 Jean Cook, 21 Sarel Pretorius, 22 Elgar Watts, 23 Rayno Benjamin.
Lions: 15 Chrysander Botha, 14 Deon van Rensburg, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Stefan Watermeyer, 11 Ruan Combinck, 10 Marnitz Boshoff, 9 Michael Bondesio; 1 Schalk van der Merwe, 2 Robbie Coetzee, 3 Julian Redelinghuys, 4 Franco Mostert, 5 Franco van der Merwe, 6 Jaco Kriel, 7 Derick Minnie, 8 Warren Whiteley (capt).
Replacements: 16 Willie Wepener, 17 Jacques van Rooyen, 18 Ruan Dreyer, 19 Willie Britz, 20 Warwick Tecklenburg, 21 Faf de Klerk, 22 Coenie van Wyk, 23 Alwyn Hollenbach.
Watch Cheetahs v Lions live on Sky Sports 1 HD at 3.05pm on Saturday.