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    Bulls, Sharks to squeeze home

    2014-03-28 10:17
    Cape Town - Sport24 chief writer Rob Houwing, in his regular South African-geared Super Rugby preview, tips seriously hard-fought home wins for both the Bulls and Sharks against strong overseas foes this weekend.

    VIDEO: 'Expert' Sport24 Week 7 predictions

    But he believes the struggling Stormers will again not have quite enough oomph to win the Brisbane battle of two potentially travel-weary teams ...

    SPORT24 PICK OF THE CROP

    BULLS v CHIEFS, Pretoria

    When: Saturday, 15:00
    Referee: Craig Joubert (SA)
    TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD

    SuperSport commentators: Matthew Pearce and Bob Skinstad (Eng), John van Rensburg and Toks van der Linde (Afrik), Kaunda Ntunja and Makhaya Jack (Xho)

    Weather outlook: Partly cloudly, mild, light breeze

    Background: With respect to their heartening Loftus form, I was teetering over whether to back the Bulls earlier this week to knock over the defending champions. But more recent events, and specifically the surprisingly wholesale changes the Chiefs have rung after their little Perth setback, have made me feel a bit more comfortable about Victor Matfield and company keeping their home winning habit going. The visitors’ shaking of the bag seems a bit of unnecessary panic stations: by contrast the Bulls have pretty settled personnel and that could sway it their way. Also to consider is that for all the Chiefs’ danger as a ball-in-hand unit, their lineout success stats rank among the lowest in the competition ... here the Bulls, who pride themselves in aerial efficiency, can cash in big time! A few callow members of the Chiefs’ ranks have little or no experience of playing at altitude, either ...

    Key head-to-head: The Chiefs may have rung the changes this week, but one “constant” is slippery, scheming AARON CRUDEN at No 10 – he also has the captain’s chore for the visitors at Loftus. The attack-minded All Black will have treated as music to his ears the suggestion by Bulls counterpart Victor Matfield that we could see a high-scoring spectacle in this one; a bright and open game would be right up his alley. Opposite number JACQUES-LOUIS POTGIETER pulls slightly different strings, but the much-travelled pivot has been something of a surprise package since his return to Loftus, playing with calm authority and good decision-making. The Bulls will want that to continue here.

    Recent history between teams: No meeting last season

    Rob Houwing’s prediction: Bulls by six points

    SA GAME 2

    SHARKS v WARATAHS, Durban

    When: Saturday, 17:05
    Referee: Mike Fraser (NZ)
    TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD

    SuperSport commentators: Owen Nkumane and Warren Brosnihan (Eng), Hennie Koortzen and Kobus Wiese (Afrik), Lonwabo Mtimka and Lungelo Payi (Xho)

    Weather outlook: Sunny, warm, gentle breeze

    Background: Further slightly worrisome injuries have played their inevitable part, but Jake White has fiddled with his brew a fair bit this week, hasn’t he? Lwazi Mvovo at fullback, considering his kicking limitations, seems an audacious call, for example, even if his counter-attacking bursts from broken play could make him lethal from his new station. And just how well will the hosts adapt to Pat Lambie’s sidelining from the flyhalf berth? These are questions that many Sharks supporters will be asking with a hint of anxiety – they may also be nervous when they examine the muscularity and ruggedness of the Waratahs pack on paper! If they are to avoid a second successive loss, the Durban-based team will have to be ready to front up with their A-game mentally against old bogey foes. But I fancy they just about will.

    Key head-to-head: There will be several clashes in the engine room that may not prove to the liking of the faint-hearted ... like Bismarck du Plessis against Tatafu Polota-Nau in a clash of brawny international hookers. But the specific one I’ve targeted for this slot is between two slightly makeshift but tough-as-teak No 4 locks: the Sharks’ repositioned WILLEM ALBERTS deputises for injured Anton Bresler and goes eyeball to eyeball with compatriot JACQUES POTGIETER, that pretty direct customer who used to be a Bulls loose forward favourite but has been brought into the tight five by the Waratahs and seems to be thriving in Sydney. These men are more accustomed to blindside flank duty; who adjusts best to Saturday’s job in the second row could be influential in the outcome. Two steamrollers on collision course ... hard hats on, please.

    Recent history between teams: No meeting last season

    Rob Houwing’s prediction: Sharks by four points

    SA GAME 3

    REDS v STORMERS, Brisbane

    When: Saturday, 10:40 SA time
    Referee: Chris Pollock (NZ)
    TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD

    SuperSport commentators: Australian panel

    Weather outlook: Cloudy, warm, chance of light rain

    Background: Again, some domestic pundits stoically believe the Stormers – one win from five outings, and no success on tour yet – will get over the line in this one. But they were saying much the same thing last week, and the Brumbies wrecked the plan. I simply cannot see the current Stormers outfit, so hideously weakened in a couple of key positions in the engine room, having enough left in the tank to prevail against the Reds. Not helping is that the Queenslanders will still be smarting from their treatment at the hands of officialdom in South Africa ... and hello, these are SA opponents! That could be motivation enough for Will Genia and company to overcome their long-distance travel fatigue and do the business. Look, don’t completely write off Jean de Villiers’s side: they did win last time out in Brisbane. But I have to go pretty solidly the other way, forecast-wise ...

    Key head-to-head: If the rather patchwork-looking Stormers team is to unexpectedly prosper against the Reds, they will need remaining members of their most senior personnel to stand up in a big way: DUANE VERMEULEN at No 8 is a key case in point. The strong Springbok hasn’t been quite as influential so far this season as some might have expected, but here’s a timely opportunity for a blockbuster performance. It won’t be a cakewalk against JAKE SCHATZ, mind you. The 23-year-old former Reds Rookie of the Year (2010) has Wallabies aspirations later in the year, especially bearing in mind the Test retirement of Ben Mowen. What better way to impress the selectors than against one of the planet’s established best in the position?

    Recent history between teams: May 25, 2013: Stormers 20 Reds 15 (Cape Town)

    Rob Houwing’s prediction: Reds by 10 points

    *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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