Durban - Sharks coach Brad Macleod-Henderson has warned the Free State Cheetahs will be a far different proposition in the Currie Cup semi-final to the side they have become accustomed to beating as they prepare for their showdown in Durban on Saturday.
Despite a few hiccups in recent Super Rugby clashes against the Bloemfontein outfit, the coastal side held a formidable competition record against their opponents, winning eight out of their last nine meetings, including a 50-26 thumping last month.
But Macleod-Henderson read nothing into that scoreline, with the focus solely on this play-off meeting.
"It will be a completely different game to when we last played the Cheetahs here," Macleod-Henderson said.
"We’ve got a tough game on our hands as they’ve got a big forward pack and some strong ball-carriers.
"And then they have some exciting backs, a dangerous number nine who likes to snipe around the fringes, and a good centre pairing and very good wings."
The Sharks, who lost 17-13 to Western Province last week, made five changes for the clash, including the introduction of Frans Steyn and Patrick Lambie to their starting XV.
Questions were again raised about the integration of Springboks into the side, although the addition of three more this week would take their tally of national players to an imperious 10 for the Kings Park clash.
"There’s no set blueprint when it comes to what the correct integration policy is," Macleod-Henderson said.
"We were generally happy with the way they all went on Saturday, and we’re looking forward to seeing another big impact from them this Saturday."
Rain had been falling for most of the week in Durban which meant tougher conditions for the players.
"I’m sure the Durban public aren’t too happy with the weather each weekend, but last week was a good training exercise for what conditions might be like on Saturday.
"The set-pieces will become vitally important again, and it is something we’ve focused on again this week."
Cheetahs coach Naka Drotske felt the contest would be determined by whoever wins the front row battle.
His Springbok trio of Trevor Nyakane, Adriaan Strauss and Coenie Oosthuizen could have a slight advantage with Jannie du Plessis missing from the Sharks, with a hand injury sustained against Province.
Still, the Sharks front-row would include Bismarck du Plessis and Tendai Mtawarira as well as Wiehahn Herbst.
The Cheetahs boss made just one change for the clash, bringing in wing Riaan Smit, who would assume the kicking responsibilities, for Rayno Benjamin.
15. SP Marais, 14. Odwa Ndungane, 13. Louis Ludik, 12. Francois Steyn, 11. Lwazi Mvovo, 10. Patrick Lambie, 9. Charl McLeod, 8. Keegan Daniel (captain), 7. Jean Deysel, 6. Marcell Coetzee, 5. Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4. Peet Marais, 3. Wiehahn Herbst, 2. Bismarck du Plessis, 1. Tendai Mtawarira
Substitutes: 16. Kyle Cooper, 17. Danie Mienie, 18. Stephan Lewies, 19. Jacques Botes, 20. Cobus Reinach, 21. Fred Zeilinga, 22. Heimar Williams
Free State Cheetahs:
15 Hennie Daniller, 14 Riaan Smit, 13 Johann Sadie, 12 Robert Ebersohn, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Elgar Watts, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Philip van der Walt, 7 Pieter Labuschagne, 6 Boom Prinsloo, 5 Lodewyk de Jager, 4 Francois Uys, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Adriaan Strauss (captain), 1 Coenie Oosthuizen
16 Hercu Liebenberg, 17 Rossouw de Klerk, 18 Teboho Mohoje, 19 Freddy
Ngoza, 20 Piet van Zyl, 21 Johan Goosen, 22 Rayno Benjamin