As the United Rugby Championship looms, we're telling you all you need to know about the four new South African teams in the league, starting with the Cell C Sharks.
Who are the Sharks and where do they play?
The Sharks are based in Durban, the largest city in the province of KwaZulu-Natal on South Africa's eastern cape. Based at sea level, they play their home games at the iconic Jonsson Kings Park, which hosts 52,000 fans.
What’s their history?
The Sharks were often bridesmaids in Super Rugby; beaten finalists in the inaugural Super 12 competition in 1996 when they lost out to the Auckland Blues. They went on to reach the final of Super Rugby’s various iterations on three further occasions, losing the deciders in 2001, 2007 and 2012.
The closest they came to winning the title was the 2007 final when they were beaten 20-19 by the Bulls in an all-South African final. A star-studded Sharks side containing the likes of Percy Montgomery, Frans Steyn, Ruan Pienaar, Johann Muller, BJ Botha, John Smit and a young Tendai Mtawarira lost a classic to an equally stacked Bulls team, with Bryan Habana’s 80th-minute try sealing the first of their three Super Rugby titles for the Pretoria franchise.
Northern hemisphere fans will have seen plenty of the Sharks this summer, although maybe more than they would have hoped for. They played the British and Irish Lions twice in the space of four days during the summer tour of South Africa, after the Lions game versus the Bulls was cancelled due to Covid-19.
The Lions were comfortable winners on both occasions, but the Sharks did give a taste of their attacking intent during their second meeting, when they scored five tries in the opening 50 minutes before fading late in the game.
Most recently, the Sharks finished runners-up in the 2021 Currie Cup, losing 44-10 to the Bulls in the final on 11 September, the second time in a row they've been beaten by the Bulls in the decider, and the third time in five years that they have lost the final.
Last January, out-half Curwin Bosh had a nightmare in the final, missing five penalties and two drop goals, as the Bulls prevailed after extra time.
After Saturday's defeat, the Sharks remain third in the Currie Cup roll of honour with eight titles, having last won the competition in 2018.
At full strength, the Sharks look like being a match for anybody in the United Rugby Championship. Opinions of them may be skewed based on their results against the Lions this summer, but when you add in their unavailable international players, their team sheet is formidable.
Springboks captain Siya Kolisi (below) joined from the Stormers ahead of the Rainbow Cup last season, while his international team-mate hooker Bongi Mbonambi is also due to arrive in Durban from the Western Province following their Rugby Championship commitments. Loosehead Ox Nche has the potential to be the long term replacement to Tendai 'Beast' Mtawarira, and will be familiar to some northern hemisphere fans from his Pro14 spell with the Cheetahs.
Among their other high-profile Test stars, team captain Lukhanyo Am was arguably the player of the series against the Lions this summer, while wing Makazole Mapimpi ran in six tries during the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan.
Their exciting backline supplied several players to the Springboks squad this year, with Sanele Nohamba, Yaw Penxe, Aphelele Fassi and Sbu Nkosi all involved, while scrum-half Jaden Hendrikse made his debut in the Rugby Championship having shown both sides of his game against the Lions in July; one of their standout players prior to a brainless red card in the teams’ second meeting.
Outside of their test stars, former 7s international Werner Kok is an all-action outside back who can make any game worth watching on his own.
Irish fans will also spot plenty of familiar faces, with the Sharks squad containing a pair of former Munster and Ulster players each.
Ex-Munster second row Gerbrandt Grobler joined the Sharks in August, having spent time at Gloucester and Stade Francais since his departure from Thomond Park in 2018. Prop Thomas du Toit (above) also played six times for Munster during a short-term deal in 2016.
Ulster legend Ruan Pienaar rejoined the Sharks for the coming season on loan from the Cheetahs, returning to his first professional club, while tighthead prop Wiehahn Herbst spent five years in Belfast with Ulster, before returning to South Africa in 2019.
One to watch
Number eight Phepsi Buthelezi is also one to watch, 22-years-old and already captain of the Sharks' Currie Cup team.
The former South Africa U20 international was one of the Sharks stronger performers in their meetings with the Lions this summer, logging 20 carries during the sides' first meeting.
It looks like a matter of time before he's wearing the Springbok jersey.
Who are the coaches?
The Sharks have Irish interest on their coaching ticket, with former Ireland U20 head coach and Leinster academy manager Noel McNamara (below) recently appointed to cover their attacking game plan, while Belfast-born John McFarland is a vastly experienced defence coach, having been on the Springbok ticket between 2012 and 2015.
The pair of Irish-born coaches will work under Sean Everitt, who has worked his way through the club’s youth sides, becoming their Currie Cup coach in 2019, before being given the full responsibility for the franchise a year later.
Just like McNamara, forwards coach Etienne Fynn is an experienced academy leader, and even built relationships with several Irish rugby schools in recent years, hosting training camps for touring sides.
When do they play the Irish sides?
You won’t be waiting long to see the Sharks against Irish opposition, with the South Africans taking on Munster at Thomond Park in Round 1 of the competition on Saturday 25 September at 7.35pm (live on RTÉ2 and RTÉ Player).
That trip to Limerick is set to be their only regular-season visit to Irish soil, however.
Irish opposition will bookend their season, as they host Leinster and Connacht in Durban in their final games of the season on 23 and 30 April respectively.