Durban - Sharks captain Bismarck du Plessis cannot wait to get their Super Rugby season started against the Cheetahs at Kings Park on Saturday.
“It’s been a long wait for this season’s Super Rugby competition to start and the guys are really looking forward to this weekend," the Springbok hooker said.
The KwaZulu-Natal franchise, under new Director of rRugby Gary Gold, were again among the early season favourites for the title having assembled a squad full of depth, quality and experience.
"The guys have been working very hard and will be up for it," Du Plessis said.
"Our confidence is high after beating (European champions) Toulon. It was a big physical test and we just wanted to put our structures in place.
"We’ve got the balance right between the work we’ve done in training, as well as they recovery time we’re getting. So I feel like we’ll be fresh and ready for this weekend.”
While the Sharks had substantially strengthened their squad, the Cheetahs had seen theirs dramatically weaken following the departures of their captain Adriaan Strauss, as well as experienced players Johan Goosen and Lappies Labuschagne.
But Du Plessis warned that the Bloemfontein side will not be pushovers.
"We know what to expect from the Cheetahs, they always play a high-intensity game.
"They have suffered some big losses, but there are new guys who are there like Willie Britz and Danie Mienie. I’m sure others will step up and prove a point - there are no weak teams in Super Rugby.”
The Cheetahs would also be without flank Heinrich Brussow and midfielder Johann Sadie who only recently returned from club duties in Japan.
Coach Naka Drotske handed the flyhalf role to former Stormers utility back Joe Pietersen, while the captaincy went to lock Francois Uys.
“Joe has impressed since joining us from the Stormers and Western Province and has earned his start against the Sharks," the coach said.
"We are eager to see how he performs in Durban. Francois is a senior player that has the support of everyone in the group."
15. SP Marais, 14. S’bura Sithole, 13. Waylon Murray, 12. Heimar Williams, 11. Lwazi Mvovo, 10. Patrick Lambie, 9. Cobus Reinach, 8. Tera Mtembu, 7. Renaldo Bothma, 6. Marcell Coetzee, 5. Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4. Mouritz Botha, 3. Jannie du Plessis, 2. Bismarck du Plessis (captain), 1. Tendai Mtawarira
Substitutes: 16. Kyle Cooper, 17. Dale Chadwick, 18. Matt Stevens, 19. Marco Wentzel,20. Jean Deysel, 21. Conrad Hoffmann, 22. Fred Zeilinga, 23. Odwa Ndungane
15 Willie le Roux, 14 Clayton Blommetjies, 13 Francois Venter, 12 Michael van der Spuy, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Joe Petersen, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Willie Britz, 7 Oupa Mohoje, 6 Jean Cook, 5 Francois Uys (captain), 4 Lood de Jager, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 1 Danie Minnie.
Substitutes: 16 Stephan Coetzee, 17 BG Uys, 18 Maks van Dyk, 19 Carl Wegner, 20 Boom Prinsloo, 21 Tian Meyer, 22 Willie du Plessis, 23 Cornal Hendricks