Durban - The Sharks will be a very different proposition by the time the United Rugby Championship resumes on November 27, with reinforcements arriving thick and fast ahead of the Scarlets’ visit to Jonsson Kings Park.
Sean Everitt’s men grew in stature over the course of their four-match introduction to the new competition in the UK and Ireland and having learned the ropes in difficult conditions overseas, they now entertain the Welshmen from Llanelli followed by Zebre from Italy a week later, and then they travel to another Italian side, Benetton.
That would take the Sharks to the halfway stage of the competition and they have targeted this block of three matches as must-wins to revive their campaign after picking up just the one win on their recent tour.
Good news is that veteran scrumhalf Ruan Pienaar will remain with the Sharks for at least the home games against the Scarlets and Zebre and then a decision will be made as to extending his loan from the Cheetahs.
This will depend on the recovery from injury of Jaden Hendrikse, who is doing well after breaking his ankle playing for the Boks and he could be ready by the Scarlets game.
On their return from Wales a fortnight ago, the Sharks were immediately joined by their three latest recruits in Argentinian flyhalf Joaquin Bonilla, Samoan international flank Olajuan Noa and former Wallaby centre Ben Tapuai.
Not such good news is that Eduan Keyter, the Griquas wing who starred in the recent Currie Cup, seriously injured ankle ligaments playing against the Sharks in the semi-final and will only be able to play for his new team in the new year.
That is also when Sikhumbuzo Notshe will at last be back from injury, and so will Tinotenda Mavesere, the No 8 who was named the forward of the Varsity Cup (for UWC) and is now with the Sharks but has undergone a knee operation.
And then there is the eagerly-awaited return of nine Springbok players who will be back in Durban after their final tour game, against England on November 20.
“Our Springbok players are very keen to get back and play for the Sharks but we will integrate them slowly,” Sharks CEO Ed Coetzee said. “We play the Scarlets a week after the Boks play England, so there will players coming back who will have carried a heavy load, so we will take it on a player-by-player basis — there are some guys with the Boks who might not have played much, the likes of Aphelele Fassi and Grant Williams, and some of the front row guys.
“But we should have everyone integrated by the Zebre game on December 4, then there is a four-week gap before the next game on January 8, against Benetton.”
The new faces at the Sharks will get an opportunity to show their talents in a match against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein on November 20 as part of the Toyota Cup competition that the Free Staters have come up with as they are without a competition. The Stormers and teams from Spain and Romania are also involved.
“The date of the Cheetahs game works perfectly for us and it will give us some momentum going into the Scarlets match,” Coetzee added.
As things stand, the Sharks will be allowed 2000 spectators for the visit of the Welshmen and Coetzee says a way will be found to accommodate as many season ticket and suite holders as possible.