Johannesburg - The Cell C Sharks look likely to be without outside centre S'bura Sithole when they play their return Absa Currie Cup match against the Steval Pumas in Nelspruit on Friday night.
The supersport.com website reports, Sithole has been battling a rib injury and is in doubt for the match. Heimar Williams will replace him if he is not cleared to play. Otherwise the rest of the Sharks players are fit, with there being a possibility that key lineout forward Stephan Lewies will be added to the mix for a starting place this week.
Many wouldn't regard the Pumas as a significant obstacle to the Sharks, but they did struggle to overcome the side from the Lowveld in the first round fixture 11 days ago, with the 34-17 end score being highly flattering to the hosts at Growthpoint Kings Park.
The Sharks have spoken a lot about shifting their emphasis towards a more attacking game in the Currie Cup, but in the previous meeting with the Pumas they had to revert to rote by relying heavily on the driving on the forwards, and three second half driving maul tries from attacking lineouts, to get the win.
So far the Sharks' most convincing win this season was the opening round 31-24 away win over the GWK Griquas, where they led by some distance for most of the game before the Griquas came back towards the end.
Even then though the victory was tempered by the knowledge that Griquas were down to 14 men from the seventh minute because of a red card for a tip tackle.
The Sharks were fortunate to get away with a win against the Toyota Free State Cheetahs in Durban this past weekend, with the visitors being the better team for most of a poor game. The Cheetahs were outplayed by the Pumas when they visited Nelspruit at the start of the season, so the Sharks coaches are understandably approaching the game with circumspection.
"It's not going to be easy," coach Brad Macleod-Henderson told reporters. " The Pumas had another good win at the weekend over Griquas and they rolled Free State in the opening round of the competition at Mbombela Stadium, so we know it's going to be tough."
Indeed, in any other season he probably wouldn't be saying that, but Nelspruit does loom as the toughest clash the Sharks have faced so far in a low key start to a season which sees them play fellow competition front-runners Western Province and the Golden Lions only once.
A win will be their fourth in succession and give them some momentum before they go into a tougher phase in the second half of the competition when they face the Lions, WP and the Bulls, as well as the return fixture against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein.