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Historic cult heroes: Toyota Cheetahs and Southern Kings

Charlie Talbot-Smith

9 Aug 2017

With the new arrivals of the Toyota Cheetahs and the Southern Kings in the Guinness PRO14 it is time to get to know the two South African sides a little better.

Where did they come from, who are their great players from the past and what are some of the decisive moments in the club’s history?

If we start with the Cheetahs, then there are a great number of fantastic Springboks to have come out of the Free State.

From the golden oldies like Piet Greyling and Gerrie Germishuys through World Cup winners Ruben Kruger and Os du Randt to the likes of Jannie de Beer and Rassie Erasmus the list is endless.

But since the Cheetahs became a Super Rugby franchise in 2006, there have been some names that have lifted the side to their highest heights.

The first and probably most famous of them is flanker and World Cup winner Juan Smith who played for them from 2006-2011.

A 70-cap Springbok who was key to their 2007 World Cup victory, Smith led from the front as the Cheetahs established themselves in Super Rugby.

And the 36-year-old is still going strong – despite a first retirement in 2013 – after spells with Toulon and now in Japan with Toyota Verblitz.

He was joined in the back row by Heinrich Brussow, the nuggety openside who British & Irish fans will remember causing the Lions so many problems on the 2009 tour of the country.

2013 – a breakthrough year

But undoubtedly the Cheetahs’ finest hour as a franchise arrived in 2013 when, with impressive wins over the likes of the Waratahs, Highlanders, Sharks and Blues to their name, they made their first and only venture into the Super Rugby play-offs.

Key to that adventure was captain and hooker Adriaan Strauss – who will retire at the end of this season after an exemplary career for club and country.

Former Cheetah Willie le Roux in action for South Africa last year against Ireland

And another star of that campaign was Willie le Roux, now at Wasps but a breakout performer that year with six tries and a top-five finish in the try-scoring charts.

Both have since become household names for the Boks but it was at the Cheetahs where they honed their skills.

More recently flanker Oupa Mohoje has established himself as the club’s new hero in the back row while out wide Raymond Rhule and Sergeal Petersen have torn up defences all over Australia, South Africa and New Zealand.

Kings come of age

Petersen seems a good end point to move on to the Kings and take a look at their key moments since becoming a franchise as he came through in the Eastern Province.

He was a key part of the side that made their Super Rugby bow in 2013, after being established as a side in 2009 to take on the British & Irish Lions.

The speedster scored two tries on their debut in the competition as they downed the Western Force at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.

Wimpie van der Walt finished the season – that was highlighted by wins over the Highlanders and the Rebels – as the club’s top try scorer while the top points scorer was Demetri Catrakilis.

The fly-half and goal-kicker moved on to the Stormers soon after and is now in England with Harlequins but the playmaker will forever be remembered for helping put the Kings on the map in that first season.

Another man to stand out will be familiar to Guinness PRO14 fans as Cornell du Preez the Edinburgh and now Scotland flanker who led from the front for the Kings in Super Rugby.

Chris Cloete crosses for a try in Super Rugby this year for the Kings

The eastern Province side returned to Super Rugby last year and in 2017 continued to make an impact with the likes of Munster-bound Chris Cloete and fly-half Lionel Cronje impressing, particularly in away wins over the the Waratahs, Jaguares and Bulls this past year.