Durban - After a long break for many players, and a few back from injury, the excitement levels are high as the focus shifts back to Super Rugby and the visiting Blues team from New Zealand.
According to the Sharks website
tomorrow’s clash against the three-time champions at Kings Park at 14:50 will be interesting for a number of reasons, not least of all the will to win that both sides will bring to the game.
"We’ve had those three weeks off and it’s good to get back into the competition again," says Sharks assistant coach Hugh Reece-Edwards.
Reece-Edwards feels that despite narrowly losing to the Lions last week, the experimenting and implementation of fresh talent into the squad may have bore fruit.
"We took a lot of youngsters with us against the Lions, Louis Ludik has played at 13 for us before and done a good job there and he was quite happy to go into this position.
"He was outstanding and I thought Heimar Williams at 12 also did a good job, while Butch James controlled the game really well.”
The Durban-based franchise's season has not gone as swimmingly as they had hoped, but Reese-Edwards stopped short of saying off-the-field politics influenced the teams, instead pointing out that injuries directly played a role in the consistency of their performance over the span of this season.
"There have been circumstances during our campaign that haven’t helped, but by the same token, the bottom line is results and those results haven’t gone our way, so the guys are really keen to turn that around and finish the pool stages off with three positives.
"The injury situation is still far from ideal, but we have a squad – a good squad – and a good side that we can put out on the field and really be competitive and it’s nice to have the Springboks back."
Bismarck du Plessis and Butch James will feature for the first time this year for the Sharks at Super Rugby level, while they also welcome back Cobus Reinach, Louis Ludik and Jacques Botes who have all missed large parts of the campaign.
"Bismarck coming back is great for us, he played a couple of club games and then went into the Springbok setup, so he brings confidence coming back now into the Sharks squad.
"Craig Burden is still injured but Kyle Cooper has played some really good rugby.
"We are a bit short at lock, but Edwin Hewitt from Griquas really did well in the last game and he’s one of those youngsters who just wants to play.
"He’s a nice kid and he wants to go further.
"And in the backline, it’s nice to have Butch available because he really controlled the game well against the Lions last weekend."
Turning his attention to Saturday’s opponents, he warns it isn’t going to be easy against one of the tournament’s perennial favourites.
"Everyone has always rated the Blues as a great side, they have a number of All Blacks in their squad and they have all those guys available to them," he explains.
"We also know that they will target this as a must-win game – if they win, they’re still in the competition – so for us it’s a massive game, one with a bit of emotion in it, but also a want to turn things around because we don’t believe we’ve been as bad as what the results show."Teams:
15. Riaan Viljoen, 14. Odwa
Ndungane, 13. Louis Ludik, 12. Butch James, 11. Lwazi Mvovo, 10. Patrick
Lambie, 9. Charl McLeod, 8. Keegan Daniel (captain), 7. Willem Alberts,
6. Marcell Coetzee, 5. Franco van der Merwe, 4. Edwin Hewitt, 3. Jannie
du Plessis, 2. Kyle Cooper, 1. Tendai Mtawarira
Bismarck du Plessis, 17. Daniel Mienie / Wiehahn Herbst, 18. Jandre
Marais, 19. Jean Deysel, 20. Jacques Botes, 21. Cobus Reinach, 22. Jaco
15. Charles Piutau, 14. Frank
Halai, 13. Jackson Willison, 12. Francis Saili, 11. George Moala, 10.
Chris Noakes, 9. Piri Weepu, 8. Peter Saili, 7. Luke Braid, 6. Steven
Luatua, 5. Ali Williams (captain), 4. Anthony Boric, 3. Angus Ta’avao,
2. James Parsons, 1. Tim Perry
Substitutes: 16. Keven Mealamu,
17. Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 18. Kane Barrett / Culum Retallick, 19. Brendon
O’Connor, 20. Jamison Gibson-Park, 21.Baden Kerr, 22. Rene Ranger