DURBAN - The Sharks are on the green, green grass of home for the rest of the Currie Cup season, but they are under no illusions that the opposition is only going to get tougher from here on, starting with the Bulls on Saturday (kick-off at 3pm).
The Bulls, Lions next week and finally Western Province on October 14 will be on upward trajectories, and then it goes without saying that the semi-finals will be tougher still (the Sharks are runaway log leaders - 14 points - and will surely qualify for a home play-off).
But for now the focus is very much on John Mitchell’s Bulls and the former All Blacks coach will no doubt want to measure his team’s progress against the form Currie Cup team - the Sharks have scored the most tries and made the most ball carries, offloads and tackle breaks and won eight games in a row.
Mitchell will be targeting this game and the Sharks are expecting nothing less than a ferocious onslaught and have selected their strongest possible team, which includes two returning Springboks in No 8 Dan du Preez and hooker Chiliboy Ralepelle.
“I am very pleased with the team we have assembled for what is going to be a tough encounter, and we are going to have to step it up,” coach Robert du Preez said.
“We know what to expect from the Bulls in terms of physicality and now we are also seeing them running from their 22 and looking to keep the ball in hand more on attack.
“The Bulls are in a building phase and want to play better rugby every week, but for us it is really about building on the (good) performance against Griquas last week.”
On bringing Du Preez and Ralepele straight back into the starting 15, coach Du Preez said: “They are part of the Sharks family and it is important that when our players have done duty with the Boks, we welcome them back with open arms.
"They did not get game time with the Boks and we are happy to get them going again.”
During the week, two Sharks backs were called up to the Boks for next week’s Test against Australia and Du Preez said that while scrumhalf Louis Schreuder and wing Sbu Nkosi fully deserved the recognition, so did the team.
“Their call-ups are well-deserved but they must thank their fellow players, the guys that got them there (notably the forwards),” Du Preez said.
“This province has a proud history of producing Boks and it is important for us that our guys get picked, and there are more to come.”
Schreuder, though, will not play against the Bulls. He has been granted leave to attend his sister’s wedding.
In other changes, in-form flank Jacques Vermeulen is back after a rotational rest last week and, similarly, Thomas du Toit will be at loosehead.
At scrumhalf, veteran Michael Claassens starts and Cameron Wright gets a chance off the bench. Claassens will partner flyhalf Curwin Bosch.
With centre Lukhanyo Am still injured, the midfield will once be promising youngsters Marius Louw and Jeremy Ward.