DURBAN - A month in Australia and New Zealand can be the stuff that dreams are made of - if you are a golfer or a fisherman - but it can be an eternity if you are on a Super Rugby tour gone wrong.
Not too many South African teams over the last 22 years of Super Rugby have had those idyllic trips of a lifetime, and there is certainly no worse place for a rugby player to be when you are getting flogged every weekend by the Australasian teams.
Conversely, it is a land of hope and glory when you are winning, and there have been a few Stormers, Sharks and Lions teams that have won more than they have lost in the Antipodes. Not many, but a few who have enjoyed the exultation of being on top Down Under.
Which brings me to the matter at hand - the Sharks playing the Brumbies in Canberra on Saturda (10.45am SA time). The importance of the Durbanites winning this opening tour game cannot be over-emphasised, for a number of reasons.
Psychologically, it is fair to assume that the Sharks are not entirely sure of their capabilities going into a tour opener which they desperately want to win to set the tone for the next three weeks.
The Sharks were mostly good against the Lions, but lost; there was a lot of good play in their encounter with the Waratahs in Durban, but they drew. The Sunwolves were soundly whipped at the weekend; but let’s be honest, they are not the trendsetters in Super Rugby.
For the Sharks, this match will tell us - and the players themselves - a great deal about how strong their challenge is going to be this year. Contenders or also-rans.
Performance more important than result
And it is an extremely tough examination the Sharks will undergo. It is the first home game for a Brumbies team that is under a new coaching staff, has lost two matches away - to the Reds and the Rebels - and won one in the opening round against the Sunwolves.
So it is a huge game for the Brumbies, too.
We should not judge the Sharks too harshly if they lose, but more on the manner in which they play, because there are few more inhospitable grounds in Super Rugby than the GIO Stadium.
It will be freezing cold, and the home crowd is incredibly parochial.
The Sharks have been preparing in Sydney at the beach town of Coogee and flew in to Canberra last night. Coach Robert du Preez has made few changes to the side that beat the Sunwolves 50-22.
In a rotational change on the wing, Kobus van Wyk returns for Sbu Nkosi and at tighthead prop Thomas du Toit resumes his adaption to his new position.
Otherwise, the notable change to the squad is the return to the bench of Jean-Luc du Preez after an injury lay-off dating back to the Currie Cup final last year.
Coach Du Preez is excited about emerging young talent Wian Vosloo, who retains his place on the flank, and with Tera Mtembu keeping his place at No 8 after a good performance against the Sunwolves, there is no place in the touring squad for the experienced Keegan Daniel.
Brumbies team: 15 Andrew Muirhead, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Christian Lealiifano, 11 Lausii Taliauli, 10 Wharenui Hawera, 9 Joe Powell, 8 Isi Naisarani, 7 Tom Cusack, 6 Lachlan McCaffrey, 5 Blake Enever, 4 Rory Arnold, 3 Allan Alaalatoa, 2 Folau Faingaa, 1 Scott Sio. Replacements: 16 Connal McInerney, 17 Nic Mayhew, 18 Leslie Leuluaialii-Makin, 19 Richie Arnold, 20 Lolo Fakaosilea, 21 Matt Lucas, 22 James Dargaville, 23 Tom Banks.
Sharks team: 15 Curwin Bosch, 14 Kobus van Wyk, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Rob du Preez, 9 Louis Schreuder, 8 Tera Mtembu, 7 Jacques Vermeulen, 6 Wian Vosloo, 5 Stephan Lewies, 4 Ruan Botha (c), 3 Thomas du Toit, 2 Akker van der Merwe, 1 Beast Mtawarira. Replacements: 16 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17 Juan Schoeman, 18 John-Hubert Meyer, 19 Tyler Paul, 20 Jean-Luc du Preez, 21 Cameron Wright, 22 Marius Louw, 23 Lwazi Mvovo.