Preview: Pumas v Sharks

Date published: August 6 2015

The Sharks have a tough task in their first match of the season when they face a Pumas side brimming with confidence in Nelspruit on Friday.

Despite losing the services of their longstanding boss Jimmy Stonehouse – who took up a coaching role in Japan at the end of last year's campaign – the Pumas have not regressed under their new coach MJ Mentz.

Mentz made a terrific start to his coaching tenure with the Pumas by guiding them to victory in the Vodacom Cup final earlier this year.

They have a well-balanced side who shocked several of the more-fancied teams in 2014, especially when they playing in Nelspruit.

The Sharks were amongst those teams who do not have fond memories of their last visit to the Mbombela Stadium in the Currie Cup, as they were on the wrong end of a 30-22 result against the Pumas in 2014.

Pumas captain Stefan Watermeyer delivered a man-of-the-match performance on that occasion with his direct running style proving a handful for the men from Durban.

Watermeyer will be determined to build on that showing and the hosts will also be boosted by the return of scrum-half Faf de Klerk to their starting line-up.

De Klerk, who was part of the extended Springbok squad for their Rugby Championship matches against Australia and New Zealand, has been released for Currie Cup duty and is expected to make a big impact against the Sharks.

The Sharks are a team in transition and it will be interesting how they fare in the Currie Cup after a disastrous Super Rugby campaign.

Sharks boss Gary Gold has picked several inexperienced players for this encounter but he believes his team will give a good account of themselves.

“We’ve made a conscious effort to invest in our youth, we have outstanding youngsters and it’s now time for them to play,” he said.

“We wanted to give them an opportunity to step on to the stage.

"Stefan Ungererput his hand up in Super Rugby and he deserves to be there at scrumhalf and although Michael Claassens is an old head, a brilliant campaigner and a brilliant human being, at the end of the day, Stefan hasn’t done anything wrong.

“In fact he is a real candidate for the future and we want the youngsters to feel that we back them, and that’s why we’re giving them an opportunity during the campaign.”

Gold expects a tough encounter against the Pumas.

“They are a well-coached unit and are coming off a high with their win in the Vodacom Cup competition," he said.

"They are always a tough prospect at home.”

Prediction: This game should go down to the wire with home ground advantage swinging it in the Pumas' favour. Pumas to win by three points!

The teams:

Pumas: 15 JW Bell, 14 Bernado Botha, 13 Jerome Pretorius, 12 Stefan Watermeyer (c), 11 Rosco Spekman, 10 JC Roos, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Lambert Groenewald, 7 Uzair Cassiem, 6 Marnus Schoeman, 5 Giant Mtyanda, 4 Rudi Mathee, 3 De-Jay Terblanché, 2 Frank Herne, 1 Khwezi Mona.
Replacements: 16 Francois du Toit, 17 Corne Fourie, 18 Marius Coetzer, 19 Jason-Colin Fraser, 20 Reynier van Rooyen, 21 Justin van Staden, 22 Hoffmann Maritz

Sharks: 15 Joe Pietersen, 14 S’bura Sithole, 13 Wandile Mjekevu, 12 Heimar Williams, 11 Andre Esterhuizen, 10 Lionel Cronje, 9 Stefan Ungerer, 8 Philip van der Walt, 7 Jean-Luc du Preez, 6 Khaya Majola, 5 Marco Wentzel (c), 4 Etienne Oosthuizen, 3 Lourens Adriaanse, 2 Monde Hadebe, 1 Dale Chadwick.
Replacements: 16 Franco Marais, 17 Thomas du Toit, 18 Dave McDuling, 19 Daniel du Preez, 20 Francois Kleinhans, 21 Michael Claassens, 22 SP Marais.

Date: Friday, August 7
Venue: Mbombela Stadium, Nelspruit
Kick-off: 18:00 (local, 16:00 GMT)
Referee: Jaco van Heerden
Assistant Referees: Ben Crouse, Renier Vermeulen
TMO: Johan Greeff