The Sharks will be hoping the return of key backs Lukhanyo Am and Curwin Bosch can help snap a four-match losing start to the United Rugby Championship when they host Connacht at Kings Park today (5pm kick-off).
It will be Am's first game since the Rugby World Cup warm-up match against Argentina in Buenos Aires in August, where he suffered a knee injury that cost him initial selection to the Springbok World Cup squad.
Am made it to France as a replacement for Sharks teammate Makazole Mapimpi, but never played and is thus spared the blanket three-week withdrawal of South Africa-based Springboks from the URC.
Sharks defence coach Joey Mongalo believes the 29-year-old will hit the ground running.
“Lukhanyo has been with us a bit longer than the other Springboks,” Mongalo said yesterday.
“He has trained with us a couple of times, so he is quite connected to what we are doing. He will add value on defence and attack. It's great to have a Springbok with his experience.
“It is all about how quickly he can connect with the other backs and carry on from where he left off before he was injured.
“One thing I do know is that because he hasn't played for quite a while, he is very hungry to get back onto the playing field and contribute.”
Bosch missed his team's fourth tour match – the 12-10 loss to Zebre in Parma – because of concussion and returns at flyhalf for Boeta Chamberlain.
Bosch had looked good in the Sharks' first three matches, and Mongalo expects a stand-out season.
“Curwin is a son of the soil here now. He arrived in Durban straight from school and has played all his senior rugby here, so he understands the stadium well,” the defence coach said.
“His combination with Cameron Wright at halfback has been good in the four of the five games so far that they've been together.”
Connacht will be the fifth Irish team the Sharks have faced in five weeks, and while they have some typically Irish features to their game, Mongalo said they offered a different challenge.
“Connacht, for an Irish side, are incredibly physical. They are confrontational. They can play around you, but they can play through you.
“Their centres are 1.8m to 1.9m and weigh around 110kg. They are big boys and won't shy away from the confrontational stuff. They are slightly different to Munster and Leinster in their desire to be confrontational in the way they go about their business.”
Meanwhile, the Sharks have lost two players to suspension.
Forwards Hyron Andrews and George Cronjé have both been slapped with four-match bans for a clean-out that saw a Zebre player upended.
Andrews was red-carded, but No 8 Cronjé was also cited and sanctioned.
They received two weeks' mitigation due to good records and an active part in the hearing, which resulted in a reduction from a six-game ban to four.
15 Aphelele Fassi 14 Werner Kok 13 Lukhanyo Am 12 Francois Venter (captain) 11 Aphiwe Dyantyi 10 Curwin Bosch 9 Cameron Wright 8 Sikhumbuzo Notshe 7 Phepsi Buthelezi 6 James Venter, 5 Emile van Heerden 4 Corné Rahl 3 Coenie Oosthuizen 2 Dylan Richardson 1 Ntuthuko Mchunu.
Bench: 16 Dan Jooste 17 Dian Bleuler 18 Hanro Jacobs 19 Jeandré Labuschagne 20 Tinotenda Mavesere 21 Zee Mkhabela 22 Boeta Chamberlain 23 Rohan Janse van Rensburg.