The Pumas will be hoping to thwart an experienced Sharks side when they host the Durbanites at Mbombela Stadium on Friday.
The clash between these sides should be exciting given the hard-fought encounters between the sides last season. The teams also met in the opening match of their campaigns last season at the Mbombela Stadium, which the Pumas won 33-24, but the men from Durban pipped them by a point in their second outing later in the season 27-26.
Pumas coach MJ Mentz said that the changes will give the forward pack some extra mobility against an attacking Sharks team.
"With the new coaching team led by Robert du Preez, we’re expecting a change of game plan and a more expansive style of play. They also have a lot of Super Rugby experience, but we’ve prepared well, had some good training sessions and have a pretty settled team who are up for the challenge," said Mentz.
Recently appointed Sharks coach Du Preez said they needed a victory from their first Currie Cup encounter.
"Starting this campaign on a positive note is priority for us. I said at the outset that bringing our fans back is something I am passionate about, and by playing a brand of rugby that is entertaining, but also brings us results, is what we intend to do," he explained.
The former Springbok scrum-half said that the Pumas should not be underestimated.
"The Pumas can never be taken lightly and we know they will be up for the challenge on Friday," added Du Preez.
"We have a good mixture of youth and experience, and everyone is keen to get our campaign underway."
Du Preez also commented on Daniel being appointed captain for the Currie Cup campaign.
"Keegan’s leadership record speaks for itself and he will play a mentorship role, with the assistance of the other leaders in our squad."
The last time these teams met: In their last match up during the Currie Cup Qualifiers the Pumas were able to smash the Sharks 35-13 in Newcastle. The Pumas scored five tries with Carel Greeff picking up a double to the Sharks solitary Nkululeko Marwana five-pointer. The half-time score was 21-6 as the Pumas dominated the tired looking Sharks with only two penalties from Tristan Tedder going into the change rooms for half-time. The Sharks finally scored a try in the second half but it was nearly enough to catch the rampant Mpumalanga men.
Team News: Francois Brummer returns from Super Rugby duty with the Bulls and starts at flyhalf for the Pumas. Marlou Van Niekerk moves to inside centre to partner number 13 Hennie Skorbinski, who has returned from injury. Speedster Marcello Sampson is back on the right wing after recovering from concussion, replacing Tyler Fisher. The forward pack has also been shuffled, with Frankie Herne, De Jay Terblanche, Stephan Greeff and Brian Shabangu all on the starting list. Returning utility forward Marnus Schoeman, is expected to provide some impact coming off the bench.
The Sharks will start their campaign off with a mix of youth and experience. Currie Cup veteran Odwa Ndungane will move from his usual spot on the wing to back field, and youthful flyer Neil Maritz will take his spot. The midfield wrecking-ball Lukhanyo Am comes back to Durban from Port Elizabeth and pulls on his preferred number 13 jersey. While Junior World Championship star Curwin Bosch will take the reigns at fly-half. The forward pack is very similar to Super Rugby except for the obvious omission of Tendai Mtawarira who will be training with the Springboks.
Prediction: Although this is a tough assignment, away from home, the Sharks should squeeze past their hosts. Sharks to win by three points!
Pumas: 15 Justin van Staden, 14 JP Lewis, 13 Hennie Skorbinski, 12 Marlou van Niekerk, 11 Marcello Sampson, 10 Francois Brummer, 9 Reynier van Rooyen, 8 Carel Greeff, 7 Lambert Groenewald, 6 Brian Shabangu, 5 Hugo Kloppers (c), 4 Stephan Greeff, 3 Dee-Jay Terblanche, 2 Frankie Herne, 1 Kwezi Mona.
Replacements: 16 Swys du Toit, 17 Yskas Kotzé, 18 Wiehan Hay,19 Marnus Schoeman, 20 Emile Temperman, 21 Devon Williams, 22 Deon Helberg
Sharks: 15 Odwa Ndungane, 14 Neil Maritz, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 S'bura Sithole, 10 Curwin Bosch, 9 Michael Claassens, 8 Philip van der Walt, 7 Jean-Luc du Preez, 6 Keegan Daniel (c), 5 Stephan Lewies, 4 Etienne Oosthuizen, 3 Lourens Adriaanse, 2 Franco Marais, 1 Dale Chadwick.
Replacements: 16 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17 Thomas du Toit, 18 Ruan Botha, 19 Tera Mtembu, 20 Stefan Ungerer, 21 Inny Radebe, 22 Heimar Williams.
Date: Friday, August 5
Venue: Mbombela Stadium, Nelspruit
Kick-off: 19:20 local (17:10 GMT)
Referee: Jaco Peyper
Assistant Referees: Pro Legoete, Ricus van der Hoven
TMO: Willie Vos