Johannesburg - Assistant Sharks coach Grant Bashford believes the Free State Cheetahs are reaping the rewards of not having too many players in the Springbok set-up ahead of their Currie Cup clash in Durban on Saturday.
The men from Bloemfontein have just two selected compared to the eight named from the Durban-based union in national coach Heyneke Meyer’s latest rugby squad, a factor that could prove key in the top-of-the-table clash at Kings Park.
"They’re not really affected by Super Rugby players going to the Boks," Bashford said ahead of their meeting.
"So there’s a lot of continuity within their group and that does give them a bit of an advantage.
"But in saying that, we always knew this was likely to happen from the start of the year."
The two Cheetahs’ absentees are hooker Adriaan Strauss and rookie flyhalf Johan Goosen, who only just returned from injury, while the Sharks have a large chunk of their forwards out of the game.
However, they have welcomed back one of their Springboks, regular captain Keegan Daniel after Meyer omitted him from the squad.
His return, one of two made by coach John Plumtree with the other seeing Meyer Bosman come back from injury, could be vital as the Sharks try to bounce back from a first loss of the season last week.
Their inexperienced side went down 42-31 to the Blue Bulls in Pretoria, following victories over Western Province and the Lions to start their campaign.
"We thought we played okay for most of that game," Bashford said.
"We do have a young group, so there’s quite a bit of inexperience there, but the guys have still come through quite nicely."
Naka Drotske’s Cheetahs side began the competition with a loss to the Lions, but bounced back admirably with wins over the Bulls and Griquas.
"They’re a confidence team and have come back really nicely after starting the competition with defeat. They do all the basics well and are performing well at the moment."
With Goosen away, Drotske has included Sias Ebersohn at number 10, with Nico Scheepers and prop Schalk van der Merwe drafted in as part of three changes for the Free Staters.
Elsewhere on Saturday, another big clash is looming in Cape Town where the Bulls play Province.
The hosts have struggled this season with just a solitary win from their opening three games and coach Alistair Coetzee, whose side has been hit hard by injuries and national call-ups, does not expect things to get any easier.
"It is always a big blow to have these quality players being called-up," said Coetzee.
"But we have to prepare with or without them and the Bulls will pose another tough test for us. We will have to be prepared."
Province have had to make seven changes to their team, while the big talking point in Pretoria has been the debut of JJ Engelbrecht against his former employers at Newlands.