Following their month-long break from Super Rugby, the Sharks enter the final phase of the tournament with an away game against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein on Saturday.
They face their remaining two pool games with the clear understanding that two wins will assure them of a top two finish ahead of the Finals Series.
With the heavy workload suffered by the Sharks and Springbok front row, Director of Rugby Jake White has opted for rotation, with Dale Chadwick, Kyle Cooper and Lourens Adriaanse starting this match.
Anton Bresler makes a welcome return to action and has been named alongside new Bok Stephan Lewies in the second row while Jean Deysel takes over the captaincy armband.
Tim Swiel has been named to start at flyhalf with Frans Steyn reverting to centre, partnering S’bura Sithole in the midfield.
The bench, loaded with six Springboks, should provide plenty of firepower in the latter stages of this vital clash.
Thomas du Toit, back from an outstanding campaign for the SA Under 20 side, has earned a call-up to the senior side, having featured in the Vodacom Cup for the Sharks XV earlier this season.
“The Cheetahs at home are a strong side, you can see that from their record,” explains White.
The Cheetahs have earned the scalps of the Bulls, Stormers and Brumbies at home this season and would love to finish their pool commitments with a flourish.
“They have knocked over some good sides at home and despite all the Springbok players they have from the weekend, it’s not really about the players they have in their roster, they’re simply a good team. We just need to make sure we prepare ourselves properly.”
Looking inward at his own team’s performances away from home this year, they had a highly successful overseas tour which resulted in three wins in New Zealand and Australia and a defeat of the Lions at Ellis Park.
“We have a good away record, probably better than our home record this year strangely enough, although it’s not something we are really concentrating on or giving too much attention to. We just want to make sure we win.”
Sharks: 15 SP Marais, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Sibusiso Sithole, 12 Frans Steyn, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Tim Swiel, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Jean Deysel (captain), 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Anton Bresler, 4 Stephan Lewies, 3 Lourens Adriaanse, 2 Kyle Cooper, 1 Dale Chadwick.
Replacements: 16 Thomas du Toit, 17 Bismarck du Plessis, 18 Jannie du Plessis, 19 Willem Alberts, 20 Lubabalo Mtembu, 21 Charl McLeod, 22 Odwa Ndungane, 23 Tonderai Chavhanga.
Cheetahs: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 Johann Sadie, 12 Ryno Benjamin, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Johan Goosen, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Philip van der Walt, 7 Teboho Mohoje, 6 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 5 Francois Uys, 4 Lodewyk de Jager, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Adriaan Strauss (captain), 1 Trevor Nyakane.
Replacements: 16 Caylib Oosthuizen, 17 Luan de Bruin, 18 Carl Wegner, 19 Jean Cook, 20 Henco Venter, 21 Shaun Venter, 22 Elgar Watts, 23 Hennie Daniller.
Date: Saturday, July 5
Venue: Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein
Referee: Rohan Hoffmann (Australia)
Assistant referees: Stuart Berry (South Africa), Francois de Bruin (South Africa)
TMO: Deon van Blommestein (South Africa)