Durban - They’re fresh off a two week break, not long enough to have to start again, and particularly because most of the faces from Super Rugby are the same for this Currie Cup campaign that kicks off tonight in Nelspruit.
As always, the Sharks have lost players to overseas and the Springbok cause, but this year the losses have not been as devastating to squad depth as in previous years, which means they carry continuity from the first half of the year into the second.
But it doesn’t mean that the youngsters in the squad will not be fighting for places as they challenge the established players for positions in the team and that adds to the squad’s development.
“There is great competition with the youngsters, and that’s fantastic,” coach Robert du Preez told the Sharks’ official website. “Hopefully we can bring them in and expose them at this level and we expect them to learn a lot from this Currie Cup competition.”
Looking at the Pumas, the former Natal and Springbok scrumhalf admits that they will be taking this side extremely seriously.
“We lost to the Pumas in the first game out last year, so a massive focus of ours is not taking these guys lightly. And this being the start of the tournament, we want to make a statement, so we have to come out of the blocks firing.
“We need to give our fans something to really come back to, we owe that to them. Without a question, we want to play in a final and that’s what the fans deserve, certainly it’s what the union deserves.
While the Sharks seek a balanced approach to their play, defence was much-improved from last year and they will look to continue, as well as the development of their attacking play.
“A big focus, and certainly for the Currie Cup, is that we want to play attacking rugby and we are going to. Of course defence is always a major part of what a rugby team is all about, but we do want to play an inspiring brand of rugby.”
Captain Keegan Daniel is also well-aware of the challenge that awaits at Mbombela Stadium (19:20 kick-off).
“The Pumas are a good outfit, there’s a reason why they’re up in the Premier Division. They’re a team that’s been really consistent, and like us, been together all season. We expect them to be extremely physical, we experienced that last year when we played them up there.
“For the first 40 minutes, they were all over us and even bullied us, so we know that’s a massive part of their game and it’s something they will do again. We know they will try exert their dominance over us, and it’s up to us to produce a quality performance that negates that.”
15 Justin van Staden, 14 Marcello Sampson, 13 Hennie Skorbinski, 12 Marlou van Niekerk, 11 JP Lewis, 10 Francois Brummer, 9 Reynier van Rooyen, 8 Carel Greeff, 7 Lambert Groenewald, 6 Brian Shabangu, 5 Hugo Kloppers, 4 Stephan Greeff, 3 De Jay Terblanche, 2 Frankie Herne, 1 Khwezi Mona
Substitutes: 16 Francois du Toit, 17 Jacques Kotze, 18 Wiehan Hay, 19 Marnus Schoeman, 20 Emile Temperman, 21 Deon Helberg, 22 Devon Williams
15 Odwa Ndungane, 14 Neil Maritz, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 S'bura Sithole, 10 Curwin Bosch, 9 Michael Claassens, 8 Philip van der Walt, 7 Jean-Luc du Preez, 6 Keegan Daniel (captain), 5 Stephan Lewies, 4 Etienne Oosthuizen, 3 Lourens Adriaanse, 2 Franco Marais, 1 Dale Chadwick
Substitutes: 16 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17 Thomas du Toit, 18 Ruan Botha, 19 Tera Mtembu, 20 Stefan Ungerer, 21 Inny Radebe, 22 Heimar Williams