Smith, who missed a large portion of the 2010 season through injury and personal issues, suffered a calf strain in the pre-season build-up and has failed a fitness test.
Cheetahs coach Naka Drotské told rugby365.com that Philip van der Walt will start in the No.7 jersey and hooker Adriaan Strauss – as he did last season – will take over the captaincy.
The coach said the loss of a “world class player” like Smith is a big loss, but he has faith that Van der Walt will be up for the task against the highly rated Sharks loose forwards.
“Philip [van der Walt] showed last year he can do the job when he had to stand in for Juan last year,” Drotské said.
Other noteworthy selections for the opening round of the season will see Hennie Daniller start at fullback ahead of Springbok tourist Riaan Viljoen, Philip Burger returning on the win after a stint in France, Ryno Benjamin getting the left wing berth, Sevens Bok Kabamba Floors starting at No.8, and new recruit Wilhelm Steenkamp starting at lock.
The Cheetahs coach admitted that taking on the Currie Cup champions, the Sharks, in the opening round is a tall order.
However, he is confident that his team is up for the task.
“I would much rather start with a tough game, than get off to a slow start. This way you know you have to get out the blocks very quickly,” he told rugby365.com.
Cheetahs: 15 Hennie Daniller, 14 Philip Burger, 13 Robert Ebersohn, 12 Andries Strauss, 11 Ryno Benjamin, 10 Naas Olivier, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Kabamba Floors, 7 Philip van der Walt, 6 Frans Viljoen, 5 Wilhelm Steenkamp, 4 Francois Uys, 3 WP Nel, 2 Adriaan Strauss (captain), 1 Coenie Oosthuizen.
Replacements: 16 Ryno Barnes, 17 Kobus Calldo, 18 Waltie Vermeulen, 19 Ashley Johnson, 20 Tewis de Bruyn, 21 Sias Ebersohn, 22 Riaan Viljoen.