Cape Town - The Sharks team to take on the Highlanders at Forsyth Barr Stadium in New Zealand’s southernmost Super Rugby city on Friday morning is almost exactly the same as last week’s victorious side barring one exception.
Try-scoring wing Sbu Nkosi has a minor niggle and will miss this game, handing newly-recruited Madosh Tambwe a debut start.
Two players are also set to achieve personal milestones in this game in captain Lukhanyo Am, who is set to play his 50th Super Rugby game for the Sharks (he already has 10 other Super Rugby caps for the Kings) and Craig Burden who will earn his 50th cap too, if he comes off the bench.
Head coach Sean Everitt admitted that the win over the Bulls was important for the team to set the tone for the season, particularly before touring.
"It was a massive confidence booster," he said of the 23-15 win at Kings Park on Friday evening.
"It was good reward for the players who worked tirelessly over the course of the pre-season. They’ve been amazing so it’s good that they put in a good performance, even if there were some errors, both teams made them in the tough conditions. So we’re happy with how things went and it was great to get onto the plane with a win."
Given the heat and humidity and the consequent difficult handling, playing in New Zealand represents the perfect opportunity at this time of year to play some exciting rugby without the risk posed in Durban during February.
"The guys are enjoying the conditions here," said Everitt.
"We play this match against the Highlanders under cover, so the conditions will suit us. I think the guys will find it refreshing although this first week is tough because we’ll have just one training session due to the travel. But we are happy with all the prep we did in pre-season, and the fact that the injury toll wasn’t serious outside of Sbu is a big plus."
Although Everitt admitted that the team’s win over the Bulls had not been error-free, constant improvement and above all consistent performances was what they will be working towards this season.
"We’ve said before that this team needs to be more consistent, we’ve been criticised for that, so consistency is key. Going overseas for four weeks is tough, we know that, but this team has a vibe about it and they are really keen to take up the challenge"
15 Josh McKay, 14 Tima Fainga’anuku, 13 Rob Thompson, 12 Josh Ioane, 11 Jona Nareki, 10 Mitch Hunt, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Marino Mikaele Tu’u, 7 James Lentjes (captain), 6 Dillon Hunt, 5 Josh Dickson, 4 Pari Pari Parkinson, 3 Siate Tokolahi, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Ayden Johnstone
Substitutes: 16 Ash Dixon, 17 Daniel Lienert-Brown, 18 Josh Iosefa-Scott, 19 Jesse Parete, 20 Shannon Frizell, 21 Kayne Hammington, 22 Michael Collins, 23 Teariki Ben-Nicholas
15 Aphelele Fassi, 14 Madosh Tambwe, 13 Lukhanyo Am (captain), 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Curwin Bosch, 9 Louis Schreuder, 8 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 7 Tyler Paul, 6 James Venter, 5 Hyron Andrews, 4 Ruben van Heerden, 3 Thomas du Toit, 2 Kerron van Vuuren, 1 Ox Nche
Substitutes: 16 Craig Burden, 17 Juan Schoeman, 18 John-Hubert Meyer, 19 Le Roux Roets, 20 Henco Venter, 21 Sanele Nohamba, 22 Boeta Chamberlain, 23 Jeremy Ward