THE Sharks’ five missing international players — away in Japan completing their club duties — are expected back in Durban before the end of the month.
New vice-captain Marcell Coetzee, JP Pietersen, Namibian backrower Renaldo Bothma and new signings Willie le Roux and Jacques Potgieter will join the Sharks squad a week before they leave on their pre-season tour of France early in February.
A member of the Sharks management told The Witness yesterday that the squad to travel to France would be announced next week and a decision on whether the Japan-based players would be included for the two friendlies has still to be made.
The Sharks will play two-time European champs Toulon on Friday, February 5, before taking on Toulouse six days later.
New Sharks captain Pat Lambie said that it was likely that all the tour members would be given an airing during the two games but added that taking on the two Top 14 French clubs would be a major challenge.
Head coach Gary Gold said he wanted tough opposition for his young charges ahead of a fresh season.
“We are excited about our pre-season tour. The quality of the French opposition we will be facing will ensure that we get the preparation we require ahead of our Super Rugby campaign.”
Meanwhile, the 26-year-old Coenie Oosthuizen, the Springbok prop signed from the Cheetahs, believes the Sharks have the skill and talent to make an impact in Super Rugby.
The Sharks had a disappointing 2015 season, finishing 11th on the log and losing nine of their 16 games.
“Our preparations for the 2016 season are going very well,” Oosthuizen said in Durban. “The players are all very positive.
“There are new coaches managing the squad and there are new players in the mix, including myself. And we are gelling very nicely.
“We all realise that 2015 was a disappointing season for the Sharks, but the important thing is learning from what went wrong, fixing it and coming back stronger. That’s what we aim to do in 2016.”
Oosthuizen said that the Sharks would be missing a number of veteran Springbok forwards this year and the emphasis was on filling the gaps and ensuring that their set-piece worked effectively.
“Our scrums need to be strong and our lineouts need to be accurate. We also need to ensure we dominate up front, especially at the breakdowns.
“A guy like [Bok loosehead] Tendai Mtawarira is a powerful player and it is great packing down next to him. I also hope to play my part by adding value all over the park on attack, defence and at the set-pieces.
“There are other experienced players to depend on elsewhere in the team, guys like Jean Deysel and Pat Lambie, who will also provide positive influence and leadership.”
The Sharks’ opening Super Rugby game is against the Southern Kings in Port Elizabeth on February 27.