Springbok captain Siya Kolisi and hooker Bongi Mbonambi were notable omissions from the Sharks team named to resume Vodacom United Rugby Championship duty against the Lions at Ellis Park on Saturday.
The 2021-22 season resumes for the South African teams this weekend and the Sharks have deployed a few second-stringers as they bid to overtake SA’s flag-bearing Lions into eleventh place.
Meanwhile, Ben Tapuai (32) is a compact inside centre who won seven Test caps for Australia and last year joined the Sharks from English Premiership club Harlequins. He teams up with Sharks skipper Lukhanyo Am in a star-studded backline that features the credentials of world champion wing Makazole Mapimpi and the pizzazz of two-Test fullback Aphelele Fassi.
Ox Nche is the only current Bok in a pack that notably does not include Kolisi or Mbonambi, with James Venter and Kerron van Vuuren starting at flank and hooker, respectively.
“We know the Lions are full of intensity,” said Fassi. “But with that comes mistakes and one thing we’ve looked after is being able to capitalise on opportunities that we receive.
“We’re expecting a very fast game. They’re a team that loves to play with a lot of intensity and keep the ball in play.”
Playing isn’t something the Sharks have done much of, their most recent URC match coming on 3 December when they beat the Bulls 30-16 to improve to 2-3 in 12th place in the standings.
Sharks – 15 Aphelele Fassi, 14 Sbu Nkosi, 13 Lukhanyo Am (c), 12 Ben Tapuai, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Boeta Chamberlain, 9 Grant Williams, 8 Phepsi Buthelezi, 7 Jeandre Labuschagne, 6 James Venter, 5 Hyron Andrews, 4 Ruben van Heerden, 3 Thomas du Toit, 2 Kerron van Vuuren, 1 Ox Nche.
Subs: 16 Fez Mbatha, 17 Ntuthuko Mchunu, 18 Khutha Mchunu, 19 Reniel Hugo, 20 Henco Venter, 21 Jaden Hendrikse, 22 Tito Bonilla, 23 Jeremy Ward.