Preview: Cheetahs v Sharks
The Sharks face a potential 'banana skin' when they travel to Bloemfontein for their Super Rugby opener against the Cheetahs.
While they are widely expected to beat the Free Staters, the derby dynamic will ensure the hosts will lift their game significantly.
Indeed, the Cheetahs have shown in previous encounters between these two sides that derby matches always bring the very best out of them and the Sharks will quite rightly be on high alert - even though the hosts came up short against the men from Durban on both occasions last season.
On their day, the Cheetahs are a dangerous beast with a back-line that would stand toe-to-toe with any in the tournament in terms of pace and movement and should not be underestimated.
The Cheetahs will field a mixed bag of youth and experience, but could face an uphill battle against a team boasting eight Springboks in their starting line-up with the likes of JP Pietersen, Frans Steyn and Pat Lambie in the backs, and Ryan Kankowski and Marcell Coetzee among the loose forwards.
And if pre-season performances are any indication, the Sharks deserve the favourites tag after beating the Leopards and Pumas convincingly in their warm-up matches.
The Cheetahs lost against the Bulls after beating the Stormers, and an early victory over the 2012 finalists would give them valuable confidence.
The Free State outfit will board the plane for their overseas tour shortly after playing the Sharks, and coach Naka Drotske would appreciate his side gaining some valuable momentum before playing the defending champion Chiefs in Hamilton next week.
"It is a crucial game for us from a touring perspective," Drotske said.
"We have guys like Johan Goosen and Coenie Oosthuizen back, but the team still needs to produce the goods if we are to take some momentum with us abroad.
"This is also our first home game and one we simply cannot lose."
Super head to head: There’s no getting away from it, scrums are a crucial part of the game. Lourens Adriaanse, Adriaan Strauss and Trevor Nyakane will lock horns with Jannie du Plessis, Craig Burden and Tendai Mtawarira. If the Cheetahs front row can manage to destabilise the Sharks trio early on, then they could win a much needed momentum boost - a few kick-able penalties wouldn’t hurt either and anything could follow. On the other hand, if the Cheetahs scrum starts going backwards, then Ryan Kankowski can roll out with the ball into space and cause havoc in Bloem.
Prediction: Whilst we don't think it will be one-way traffic, we do think the Sharks will come away with a full house of points. Sharks to win by eight!
Cheetahs: 15 Hennie Daniller, 14 Willie le Roux, 13 Johann Sadie, 12 Robert Ebersohn, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Johan Goosen, 9 Piet van Zyl, 8 Philip van der Walt, 7 Lappies Labuschagne, 6 Frans Viljoen, 5 Francois Uys, 4 Lood de Jager, 3 Lourens Adriaanse, 2 Adriaan Strauss (c), 1 Trevor Nyakane.
Replacements: 16 Ryno Barnes, 17 Coenie Oosthuizen, 18 Waltie Vermeulen, 19 Boom Prinsloo, 20 Sarel Pretorius, 21 Elgar Watts, 22 Ryno Benjamin.
The Sharks: 15 Louis Ludik, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Paul Jordaan, 12 Francois Steyn (c), 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Patrick Lambie, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Marcell Coetzee, 6 Jacques Botes, 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Anton Bresler, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Craig Burden, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Kyle Cooper, 17 Wiehahn Herbst, 18 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 19 Jean Deysel, 20 Charl McLeod, 21 Meyer Bosman, 22 Odwa Ndungane
Date: Saturday, February 23
Kick-off: 17:05 local (15:05 GMT)
Venue: Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein
Referee: Jonathan Kaplan (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Jason Jaftha (South Africa), Tiaan Jonker (South Africa)
Television match official: Gerrie Coetzee (South Africa)