Sharks coach John Plumtree admitted he had to make some tough calls when he named his team to face the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein on Saturday.
Returning Springbok Ryan Kankowski has been named at No.8 in the starting team for the Super Rugby season opener, despite not featuring in either of the Sharks' pre-season outings.
Kankowski, back from a six-month stint in Japan, will make his first appearance of the year alongside Jacques Botes and Marcell Coetzee.
It is a near full-strength Sharks side, captained by Francois Steyn.
Another tough call is young Cobus Reinach at scrumhalf ahead of Springbok Charl McLeod.
Lions loan lock Franco van der Merwe partners Anton Bresler in the second row.
There are no real surprises in the backline - Pat Lambie at flyhalf, Frans Steyn partnering Paul Jordaan in the midfield, Springboks JP Pietersen and Lwazi Mvovo out wide and Louis Ludik completing the line-up at fullback.
"It was a case of the experience factor with the tight five I've chosen," Plumtree said on the Sharks website.
"The way the Cheetahs play influenced a lot of the selections," the coach said, adding: "They have a lot of speed and genuine threats in their backline and we have to be able to match that defensively.
"We've picked a side that has the most experience for the occasion. Scrumhalf was a horses for courses selection in terms of the strengths I require for the day."
Sharks: 15 Louis Ludik, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Paul Jordaan, 12 Francois Steyn (captain), 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
Venue: Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein
Kick-off: 17.05 (15.05 GMT)
Referee: Jonathan Kaplan (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Jason Jaftha (South Africa), Tiaan Jonker (South Africa)
TMO: Gerrie Coetzee (South Africa)
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