The Sharks expect a war as they face the Cheetahs in their opening Super Rugby fixture in Bloemfontein. Photo by Steve Haag

It is unclear how many cheetahs were spotted by the Sharks during their weekend sojourn in the Kruger Park but in rugby terms the long-limbed predator has certainly been in the sights of the Sharks for some time now, and they will let fire on Saturday at 5pm in what should be an almighty Super Rugby encounter in Bloemfontein.

“Whenever we play them up there in Bloemfontein, we’re in for a heck of a match and this week will be even tougher because it is the first game for both teams, and a home game for them,” said assistant coach Hugh Recce-Edwards. “The Cheetahs are always really strong at the beginning of a competition.

Traditionally their depth hasn’t been as great as some of the other franchises, so if they pick up injuries, they have tended to struggle a bit, but we know how strong they will be first up.”

Reece-Edwards said the opening exchanges would not be for the faint hearted.

“It’s going to be a massive game, certainly the opening 20 minutes will be huge, from then it will open up and we just hope that our conditioning is right up where we think it is. We need to be really accurate in what we do or we will be punished. The Cheetahs are hungry.”

The coach said that No8 Ryan Kankowski is available for selection after sitting out last week. “He’s right back in the pecking order. We wanted to keep him out and give him one good week. He’s been playing in Japan, he’s match fit, but we wanted to give him the break, to settle back in, spend time with family but, at the same time, have a good hard week in the gym.”

There is no such luck for fellow loose forward Willem Alberts. The big Springbok will today undergo an operation on his shoulder and is expected to miss the first four rounds of the competition.

Reece-Edwards said the good news is that there were no injuries against the Pumas at the weekend.

“We feel we’ve got what we wanted from the two warm-up games,” he said. “Had we sustained no injuries, we’d be happier. Had we had no games, we would have had no injuries, but you need the hit-outs.

“Certainly this last game we got the physicality we needed, so from that point of view our physical preparation has been good.”

Reece-Edwards said the friendlies had more or less settled the starting line-up in the minds of the coaching staff.

“In terms of combinations, we’ve identified a lot. Our training sessions have also been more game-related, which involves physicality.

“We’ve had enough preparation. In most areas, there are more answers than questions, there are still areas we need to brush up on, areas we need to fix. We were probably a bit inaccurate against the Pumas at the breakdown where we were more dominant previously and perhaps overlooked it, but it was a reminder and we’re happy with that.” - The Star