Bulls, Stormers to march on

    2012-06-29 10:37
    Pierre Spies (Gallo Images)
    Cape Town - Rob Houwing, in his South African Super Rugby Round 16 preview, suspects the Cheetahs will be tamed up front in Saturday night’s big Loftus derby


    BULLS v CHEETAHS, Pretoria

    When: Saturday, 19:10
    Referee: Marius Jonker (SA)
    TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD

    Long-range weather forecast:
    Clear, mild, light breeze.

    The Cheetahs may be largely playing for pride, but the battlers from Bloem are pretty used to that and it doesn’t stop them from delivering some blood-and-thunder performances towards the end of Super Rugby campaigns – especially as the whiff of derby gunsmoke is usually enough to get their engines going anyway. My big fear for them is that, with enforcer and big ball-carrier Coenie Oosthuizen absent, the pack loses a fair bit of sting: Trevor Nyakane and experimental tighthead Marcel van der Merwe could have their hands full against the all-Bok front row of the Bulls, for instance. Still, the Bulls will be very aware of the fact that these opponents can sometimes cash in quite lethally on scraps, and with mercurial Willie le Roux busting in from fullback ... an upset is not entirely the stuff of fantasy.

    Key head-to-head:
    There are several important head-to-heads in this one, but I am particularly looking forward to seeing how JJ ENGELBRECHT (clearly rated highly enough by Heyneke Meyer to be in his broader Springbok group at present) continues his development as an outside centre. His defensive alignment has occasionally been found wanting, even if his long-striding acceleration is a known strong point, and he will certainly be tested to the full here by the arguably under-rated and eternally slippery and constructive ROBERT EBERSOHN. The latter may not have the luxury of as much go-forward opportunity, unless the injury-hit Cheetahs pack truly fronts up.

    Recent history:
    The Bulls humbled the Cheetahs 51-19 in their own backyard in early March, so the portents surely have to be good for them to prevail again at Loftus. Physical mastery played a big part in that thumping, and significantly Morne Steyn sported a 90 percent kicking record that day – how he’d love to return to that kind of stat this weekend! The Bulls won 32-21 in last season’s Pretoria meeting, and also edged the Bloemfontein fixture 25-23 so their recent track record against these foes is excellent.

    Rob Houwing’s prediction:
    Having lost some vital ground in the weeks immediately preceding the Test window, the Bulls will be under no illusions as to the importance of winning this one – their playoffs presence could be seriously imperilled if they blow it. Most of their forwards will be reasonably revitalised after the break, considering that only Pierre Spies and Juandre Kruger were genuinely heavily employed during the England series, and they should set the foundations for a comfortable enough win. Bulls by 14!

    SA GAME 2

    STORMERS v LIONS, Cape Town

    When: Saturday, 17:05
    Referee: Mark Lawrence (SA)
    TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD

    Long-range weather forecast:
    Partly cloudy, cool, gentle breeze.

    The Stormers, lying second overall and bidding forcefully to win the SA conference again, still have a good shout at pipping the Chiefs to top place after ordinary season, and all the playoffs advantages that entails. So stepping off the pedal here (or being unceremoniously bundled into a ditch, if you prefer) is unthinkable from their point of view. There are ongoing, injury-enforced challenges for them in some positions, which gives the visitors from the Big Smoke at least a sniff. Nevertheless, their own front-row woes - they’ll especially rue Pat Cilliers’s absence - don’t help any quest to establish suitable supremacy in the engine room, and the Stormers remain wily enough to grind out the win.

    Key head-to-head:
    The battle between the open-side flanks could be influential, if not necessarily decisive, in determining the outcome here. It’s a no-contest, after all, from an experience point of view: the Lions’ Alberton-born DERICK MINNIE is in his third full season at this level, whilst opposing him in the battle at the breakdown will be total Super Rugby novice TYRONE HOLMES from rugby-unfashionable Fish Hoek! Nevertheless, some wise men around Newlands insist Holmes is made of stern stuff and will only further illustrate the depth of their loose forward factory (even if it is injury-jinxed right now).

    Recent history:
    When these teams met in the first-round clash at Coca-Cola Park on March 24, the Stormers cavorted into a handsome 18-0 lead after 25 minutes and seemed odds-on to hand out a grilling. But the second half, especially, saw the Lions produce an inspired turnaround as the visitors clung on, instead, to grab the spoils only by 24-19. In the equivalent Newlands match last season - in the second round, but the Stormers’ opening game - the hosts edged a forgettable affair 19-16. They were spared embarrassment by a late, clinching try from now-retired Pieter Louw.

    Rob Houwing’s prediction:
    I would be surprised if the Lions, despite their lowly status, are walloped in this one. They probably even feel they have a puncher’s chance, what with a strong dose of squad harmony seemingly being restored with the sidelining of coach John Mitchell and the hosts fielding two complete rookies among their loose trio, which poses certain dangers to the title-seekers. Still, Stormers to get over the line reasonably comfortably (in the end) ... by about nine points?

    *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing
    Read More On:  rob houwing cape town rugby

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