Coach Robert du Preez has made eight change to the side that was so poor against the Rebels last week (six unenforced) and while the coach was quick to say earlier in the week that “there would be changes but not performance-related ones”, we can take that with a pinch of salt.
The Sharks have been hot and cold all season and there have been highs such as the performance against the Lions at Ellis Park (where they should have won) but then curiously poor displays at home against the Kings and the Rebels. More than anybody, Du Preez wants the real Sharks to stand up.
They have talked the talk about playing an attacking game but after the halfway mark they have scored just 17 tries, tied with the Force. Of the 18 teams in the competition, only the Rebels have scored fewer tries than the Sharks and Force, while the Hurricanes have scored 56 in the same number of matches.
Something with the Sharks is just not adding up .... It is time they walked the walk about this try-scoring game they keep banging on about.
Saturday's match for the Sharks is as important for the log points they need to stay in play-off contention as it is to how they play the game.
That second half (in particular) against the Rebels was plain drivel. The Sharks must rather stick to their attacking guns and lose than disintegrate into a shambles as they did not last week when nobody seemed to know what to do. The ball was kicked away aimlessly, passes were made directly into touch, there were ridiculous drop goal attempts from the half line ....
One comment from Du Preez after the game stood out more than his other caustic remarks: “The senior players did not stand up and take control.”
I don’t think it is a co-incidence that there are six changes, including a new captain, together with the change necessitated by the suspension of Andre Esterhuizen and the injury to Kobus van Wyk.
The Beast has been “rested” at loosehead prop and youngster Thomas du Toit comes in, at hooker Chiliboy Ralepelle gets a shot ahead of Franco Marais and completing the new front row is Lourens Adriaanse, replacing Coenie Oosthuizen.
Make what you will of those changes but it would seem to me that seniors in The Beast and Coenie have been axed.
In the second row, there is the usual rotational switch, with Etienne Oosthuizen this week moving to the bench and Ruan Botha starting with Stephan Lewies.
The captain against the Rebels, Tera Mtembu, has been dropped to the bench, as much due to his culpability for the performance against the Rebels as to the need to get Philip van der Walt starting. The former Cheetah is also the new captain.
It is a beefy loose trio now that the Du Preez twins are back in tandem.
The need for experience will explain the re-emergence from nowhere of veteran Odwa Ndungane. The 35-year-old has been nowhere near the Sharks 23 this season and has been mentoring the second-string side in the SuperSport Challenge, but is suddenly back on the right wing.
There is also a welcome return on the other wing for Lwazi Mvovo. Youngster Jeremy Ward gets his big break at 12 in place of Esterhuizen. Interestingly, Du Preez has opted for the vastly experienced Michael Claassens at scrumhalf, for Cobus Reinach.