The Cheetahs were the 2nd highest points scorers in Super Rugby last year.
Only the All Black-laden Crusaders scored more.
However, the flip side of the coin is that, along with the Brumbies, they were tied for third most points conceded, beaten only by the newcomers Rebels and the spirited but defensively shambolic Lions.
They got five points for four tries or more in their 16 games and seven for losing within seven points. Of their five wins, one was an impressive domination of the perennial champions Crusaders as well as humbling the Waratahs over in Sydney.
And they did this minus Juan Smith. You know him, big, fast, strong, brave, couldn’t-play-badly-to save-his-life Juan Smith. Yeah. They didn’t have him.
Many things can be said about Naka Drotske’s charges who are ultimately limited in depth, experience, defensive organisation and BMT. What you can’t accuse them of is lacking heart and confidence. The Cheetahs are not afraid of playing, and they never play within themselves. Juan Smith is expected to be around for more matches this year. Heinrich Brussouw is fully fit, Johan Goosen adds physicality, a massive boot and youthful exuberance to pivot, and the tight five will remain a threat. The loose trio of Floors, Smith and Brussouw, with Floor and Raubenheimer on the fringes, stands up to any other in world rugby.
They’ve lost a mercurial scrumhalf in Sarel Pretorius but Tewis de Bruyn will offer more solidity on defence. In fact, what the axis of de Bruyn and Goosen lacks in flash, they make up for in structure and natural talent. If they settle quickly, the Cheetahs could be improved here over next year. And Sias Ebersohn will still make his fair share of starts in such an extended season.
Granted, they won’t have the depth in quality to make a sustained surge for even conference honours. The riches of the other local unions will continue to see to that. But if you are looking for rugby played as it should be (going forward at least), if you are looking to be entertained, seeing the form book upended and unheralded players giving their all every week, look no further than the men from Bloem.