Durban - Veteran forward Jacques Botes is confident the Sharks can defend their Currie Cup crown, despite the prospect of having a vastly inexperienced squad when the competition kicks off this week.
None of the Durban side's Springboks will be available for the competition, while several experienced campaigners like Charl McLeod, Anton Bresler and Jean Deysel have left to continue their careers overseas.
"I think some people are blowing that (inexperience factor) a little bit out of proportion," 33-year-old Botes said on Wednesday.
"We have got a young group definitely with a couple of older guys.
"But amongst the younger group there's guys that are 22 and 23, so they've been in our system for quite a while."
The 2013 competition winners travel to Kimberley to play Griquas in their opening game on Saturday.
Loose forward Botes will begin his 12th and final campaign before retiring at the end of the year.
He said his desire to help the Sharks defend their title was as strong as ever.
"Absolutely, it's my last rugby campaign, full stop. The Currie Cup has been close to my heart.
"I've only played one Super Rugby game and the odd Vodacom Cup game this season, so I'm fresh in that regard, as fresh as I can be. So I'm also very excited for this campaign."
Botes also revealed that the Sharks' young squad, who have a different coach in Brad Macleod-Henderson as director of rugby as Jake White takes on a more observatory role, were looking forward to the start.
"It's always nice in the Currie Cup because guys are energetic, there's others chomping at the bit because they haven't had all the opportunities they wanted in Super Rugby and are raring to go.
"It's always a challenge finding that balance between little bit of experience that you do have and those guys raring to go. But we're ready and looking forward to it."
The Sharks also have a new captain in Tera Mtembu, the first black player to lead the union, and Botes felt it was the right time for the new man to step in, saying he had little doubt that his fellow back rower would have a positive impact.
"He's a very exciting talent and we're very excited by his prospects and where he's going," said Botes.
"He's keen and he's willing to learn."
As for the clash against Griquas, Botes admitted it was a tough place to go first up as many sides, including the Sharks, have come unstuck in the northern Cape town.
"We've stumbled against that hurdle once or twice before, but it's also good to measure yourself because they're raring to go, they're rested, well-trained and everybody fit.
"To start off in Kimberley is going to be a big challenge for us, but ultimately if you want to win this trophy or defend it, you have to be able to beat them."