Durban – Springbok pair Patrick Lambie and Beast Mtawarira both failed late fitness tests and are excluded from the Sharks team to face the Stormers in Cape Town on Saturday.
Director of rugby Jake White has made five changes for their final regular-season Super Rugby encounter, bringing back captain Bismarck du Plessis and brother Jannie to the front row. The match also features a first ever start for young prop Thomas du Toit.
He made his debut off the bench in last week's 27-20 loss to the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein.
“It was his first game, he's just a 19-year-old prop, but it was obviously massive for him and he scrummed against a Springbok front row,” White said.
“I'm sure he enjoyed it which is nice, but I think he would have enjoyed it more if we'd won.”
The trio replace Dale Chadwick, Lourens Adriaanse and Kyle Cooper.
Mtawarira, meanwhile, continues to recover from a bulging disc, a problem that saw him released early from Springbok duty during the June international break.
Lambie has been sidelined for over three months with a torn bicep and the flyhalf position vacated by him has gone back to Frans Steyn.
It is the only change to the backline as stand-in Tim Swiel, who came in last week, has been dropped.
Paul Jordaan returns to fill Steyn's position in the midfield, where he partners JP Pietersen – the Springbok winger moving to centre and S'bura Sithole shifted to the wing.
Another Bok, Willem Alberts, is also back in the mix, starting ahead of Jean Deysel.
On the bench, Fred Zeilinga returns after a few months out with a troubled hamstring.
The Sharks must win in Cape Town or at least match the result and improve their points difference over the Crusaders, if they want to move ahead of the Christchurch outfit and end second on the log, a position that will see them earn an automatic home semi-final.
Failure to do so will see them end in their current third spot, face a home quarterfinal next week and play away for the remainder of the playoffs.
“I still feel we're in a great position,” White said.
“This team has won the conference, they have 46 points and still have a chance of getting a home semi-final. So I still think we have a massive chance of winning this competition and I still believe we can.”
Sharks team: SP Marais, S'bura Sithole, JP Pietersen, Paul Jordaan, Lwazi Mvovo, Frans Steyn, Cobus Reinach, Ryan Kankowski, Willem Alberts, Marcell Coetzee, Anton Bresler, Stephan Lewies, Jannie du Plessis, Bismarck du Plessis (captain), Thomas du Toit.
Replacements: Kyle Cooper, Wiehahn Herbst, Lourens Adriaanse, Etienne Oosthuizen, Jean Deysel, Charl McLeod, Fred Zeilinga, Tonderai Chavhanga. – Sapa