This year our goal is to win the [South African] conference
After seven lean years, in which their highest finish was 10th, the Cheetahs finally made the 2013 Super Rugby play-offs. Now they are ready to raise the bar once more.
Cheetahs assistant coach Hawies Fourie is confident they have the squad to improve on last year's sixth-place finish - when they were knocked out in the quarterfinal stage by the Brumbies.
Fourie, speaking to this website ahead of their first pre-season match - a double-header against Shimlas and Griquas on Friday - said the Cheetahs finally started playing according to their potential last year.
"In past years we often threw games away, or lost by narrow margins," Fourie said, adding: "We never came close to the top six in those years.
"Last year we made the play-offs. This year our goal is to win the [South African] conference."
The Cheetahs backline mentor said the best chance of going all the way in the competition is to win your conference and secure home ground advantage in the play-offs.
"If, like [we did] last year, you finish sixth, the you travel abroad for a quarterfinal, perhaps return to South Africa for a semifinal and then back abroad for a possible Final," he told this website.
"That limits your chance of winning [the competition]."
He said the Cheetahs feel they have a solid squad.
"We have, with the exception of two players [midfielder Robert Ebersohn and prop Lourens Adriaanse], the same group [as 2013].
"We also gained four or five quality players.
"We have some good depth allround and good quality players, so we feel we can have a really good season."
The most high-profile players who departed are Springbok prop Lourens Adriaanse (who moved to the Sharks) and midfielder Robert Ebersohn (to Montpellier in France).
However, the arrival of Nick Schonert, another product of the Griquas prop factory, will add depth to a front row that already boasts Springboks Trevor Nyakane and Coenie Oosthuizen - while Rossouw de Klerk and Caylib Oosthuizen are also waiting in the wings.
The departure of Ebersohn has been offset by the arrival of Piet Lindeque (from the Sharks) and Francois Venter (from the Bulls).
Other noteworthy additions to the Cheetahs squad - which will be finalised later this month - include loose forward Jean Cook (from the Bulls) and Pumas scrumhalf Shaun Venter (who played Super Rugby for the Kings last year).
The Cheetahs' first pre-season game is on Friday, January 17, when they play with one team against Shimlas and another team against Griquas - both matches in Bloemfontein.
Next week they head to Jeffreys Bay for a training camp.
On the Tuesday, January 21, one team will play against the NMMU Varsity team, and the other team will play the Eastern Province Kings on the Saturday, January 25.
On February 1 they play against the Pumas in an historic game in Parys, before they open their campaign against the newly promoted Lions in Bloemfontein on Saturday, February 15.
By Jan de Koning