BLOEMFONTEIN –The Cheetahs and Kings appear to have wrapped up their pre-season signings ahead of the fast-approaching 2018-19 Pro 14 season.
The two Pro 14 conferences will remain unchanged for the upcoming season, which kicks off at the end of August, with the Cheetahs placed in group A, while the Kings will feature in conference B.
In particular, the Cheetahs enjoyed a memorable debut season in the Pro 14, with the Free State side progressing to the playoffs at the first time of asking. However, they have since bid farewell to a host of players, including the likes of Francois Venter, Uzair Cassiem, Clayton Blommetjies, Fred Zeilinga and Torsten van Jaarsveld.
Former Bok assistant coach Franco Smith will now be taking up the reins of a new-look side, with the Cheetahs having been forced to dip into their talent reserves in the province, which will see at least four players making their Pro 14 debuts this season.
Dian Badenhorst, Lloyd Greeff, Sibabalo Qoma and Boan Venter have all come through the Cheetahs' ranks to earn inclusion in the Pro 14 squad, although there has also been a move to bolster the player group with some overseas recruits.
Most notably, former Bulls players Tian Schoeman, Louis Fouché and Dries Swanepoel have now linked up with the Cheetahs, who have done particularly well to strengthen their backline stocks.
2018/19 #GUINNESSPRO14 FIXTURES CONFIRMED:
Kings will start the season in Parma where we will face @ZebreRugby before traveling to Wales to face @dragonsrugby
Full fixture list: https://t.co/kJaxOJV5Yo#FixtureDay pic.twitter.com/QAMbMW8rhU
Meanwhile, the Kings will be determined to produce a more competitive showing in the Pro 14 this season after they managed just a solitary victory in their debut campaign.
The recruitment of Fiji sevens flyer Meli Rokoua is a particularly exciting one, while the arrival of Sarel Pretorius, JC Astle and Schalk Oelofse has also illustrated their ability to lure at least some experienced players from the European market.
The Cheetahs are set to kick off their campaign with a clash against last season’s semi-finalists, Munster, on September 1, while the Kings travel to Italy to face Zebre on the same day. The Bloemfontein-based team will then tackle the Ospreys, while the Kings take on the Dragons in round two.
In: Sarel Pretorius (Dragons), Meli Rokoua (AEIS Agronomia), JC Astle (Mont-de-Marsan), Schalk Oelofse (Mont-de-Marsan)
In: Dian Badenhorst (Free State Cheetahs), Aidon Davis (Bayonne), Louis Fouché (Kubota Spears), Lloyd Greeff (Free State Cheetahs), Sibabalo Qoma (Free State Cheetahs), Clinton Swart (Toyota Verblitz), Boan Venter (Free State Cheetahs), Henco Venter (Toshiba Brave Lupus), Tian Schoeman (Bordeaux), Dries Swanepoel (Bulls)
African News Agency (ANA)