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Eben Etzebeth returns for the Sharks following illness

By Ian Cameron
South Africa's lock Eben Etzebeth meets with supporters upon the South African rugby team's arrival at the OR Tambo International airport in Ekurhuleni on October 31, 2023, after they won the France 2023 Rugby World Cup final match against New Zealand. (Photo by Emmanuel CROSET / AFP) (Photo by EMMANUEL CROSET/AFP via Getty Images)

The Sharks welcome back Eben Etzebeth in their first match of the year against the Lions, taking place in Round Eight of the United Rugby Championship at Kings Park on Saturday.

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Following a narrow one-point defeat to the Stormers last weekend, the Sharks, playing at home, are keen to demonstrate a turnaround in their performance. The previous match in Cape Town showcased the level of play the Sharks aspire to maintain consistently.

With an eye on the upcoming game against the Lions, the Durban team is set to prove their true potential. Key changes have been made to the squad by Sharks head coach John Plumtree. Fez Mbatha steps in as hooker, with Kerron van Vuuren moving to the bench. Hanro Jacobs fills in for Coenie Oosthuizen, who has been under considerable strain in recent months.

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A major boost for the team is the return of Eben Etzebeth. The two-time World Cup champion, who missed the last game due to a stomach bug, will join Gerbrandt Grobler in the second row. Grobler himself makes a notable return from injury, replacing Emile van Heerden.

The backline sees a single change with Grant Williams and Jaden Hendrikse rotating scrumhalf roles. This is part of an effort to maintain a stable and effective backline setup.

Etzebeth’s comeback is a significant addition to the Sharks’ lineup, as they seek to rectify last week’s close loss and set a positive tone for the year’s opening match.

Sharks: 15 Aphelele Fassi, 14 Werner Kok, 13 Lukhanyo Am (captain), 12 Francois Venter, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Curwin Bosch, 9 Grant Williams, 8 Phepsi Buthelezi, 7 Lappies Labuschagne, 6 James Venter, 5 Gebrandt Grobler, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Hanro Jacobs, 2 Fez Mbatha, 1 Ox Nche.
Replacements: 16 Kerron van Vuuren, 17 Ntuthuko Mchunu, 18 Joel Hintz, 19 Corne Rahl, 20 George Cronje, 21 Jaden Hendrikse, 22 Boeta Chamberlain, 23 Rohan Janse van Rensburg

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Date: Saturday, January 6
Venue: Kings Park, Durban
Kick-off: 17.00 (15.00 GMT)
Referees: Morne Ferreira
Assistant Referees: Cwengile Jadezweni & Stephan Geldenhuys
TMO: Quinton Immelman

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