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    Bulls capable of bounce-back

    2012-04-05 12:16
    Cape Town - Rob Houwing, in his SA Super Rugby Week 7 preview, tips the Bulls to take out some anger on the Crusaders at Loftus.

    SPORT24 PICK OF THE CROP

    BULLS v CRUSADERS, Pretoria

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


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

    Background:
    Both teams for this spicy Highveld clash currently sport a record of three wins and two losses, suggesting that while they’re certainly “contenders”, they also haven’t truly convinced just yet. The Crusaders, especially, are struggling to get into power-fifth gear – as evidenced again despite their win over the Lions. The Bulls may just be chastened enough by their narrow loss at Newlands last weekend to hit back with strong intent here before their Loftus faithful ... and back in more customary blue jerseys, too, which could be a spur of its own. Mind you, if Dan Carter has brushed off enough cobwebs, the visitors are well capable of finally producing a charm offensive, even at this venue ...

    Key head-to-head:
    The Crusaders have confirmed that the brilliant CARTER will resume place-kicking duties for them this week, a further signal of his progressive rehabilitation from injury and vital role in this game. Up against him will be an old foe at both Super Rugby and international level in MORNE STEYN, who produced another unusually mixed kicking bag off the tee and out of hand against the Stormers and will be seeking old levels of precision against the ‘Saders. The Bulls also weirdly opted to shun a shot or two at goal at Newlands; that may change if this is a ding-dong affair!

    Recent history:
    Last year, the Crusaders rather humbled the touring Bulls, unusually keeping them scoreless in a 27-0 outcome. But in 2010, the last time the men from Pretoria won the title, they did a Loftus double over these opponents, beating them 40-35 in round-robin play and then again a fortnight later 39-24 in a semi-final.

    Rob Houwing’s prediction:
    Many pundits agreed that even in defeat by a whisker in that thunderous derby to the Stormers last Saturday, the Bulls showed enough quality at times to suggest that they can restore winning ways pretty quickly. Maybe the Crusaders aren’t ideal next opponents, considering the physical demands of Newlands, but I believe Pierre Spies and company will come out snorting. Bulls by five.

    SA GAME 2

    HIGHLANDERS v STORMERS, Dunedin


    When: Saturday, 09:35 SA time
    Referee: Chris Pollock (NZ)
    TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD


    Long-range weather forecast:
    Enclosed stadium.

    Background:
    On and on grind the overall- and conference-leading Stormers ... impressively in many ways, but also without yet really showing great attacking sparkle. The funny thing is that when they go abroad, they tend to find some lustre in this regard – even sometimes in relatively high-scoring defeat. But this is a tough ask: a top-of-table clash so soon after gruelling derbies against the Lions and Bulls and then the marathon travel from Cape Town. It is not beyond them, but the Highlanders are enjoying this atmospheric venue, shut out as it is from the frigid local elements, and will offer particularly staunch resistance up front. 

    Key head-to-head:
    There’s a quality battle in the offing at hooker, where TIAAN LIEBENBERG is starting to play his best, barnstorming rugby again to join the impressive list of candidates for Springbok duty later in the season, and the Highlanders’ ANDREW HORE is a takes-no-prisoners sort of customer himself. The former Hurricanes No 2 had a rest last weekend and, although the line-up had not been named at the time of writing, was expected to come back suitably refreshed into the front row.

    Recent history:
    Last year the Stormers beat these foes in relatively dour fashion 18-6 at Newlands, fairly early in their campaign. The previous meeting was also in Cape Town, in 2010, when the hosts were more emphatic in clinching it 33-0 (with a Bryan Habana bonus-point try smack on full-time). The Stormers also won the last away clash – 18-11 in 2009.

    Rob Houwing’s prediction:
    I suggested last week that the Stormers would do enough to beat the Bulls, despite the herculean efforts required to hold off the Lions a week earlier, and was proved right. I’m afraid I see this fixture as a temporary bridge too far for Allister Coetzee’s charges, who could labour for “legs” in the second half. Highlanders by six?

    SA GAME 3

    HURRICANES v SHARKS, New Plymouth


    When: Friday, 09:35 SA time
    Referee: Glen Jackson (NZ)
    TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD


    Long-range weather forecast:
    Partly cloudy, mild, moderate breeze.

    Background:
    The Sharks have the incentive of knowing that half their overseas programme is complete, with them reasonably handily placed both in broader and SA conference terms and awaiting a rosy run of matches back in Durban pretty soon. If they beat the erratic ‘Canes here, they will really be in fine log fettle! As for the hosts, there are bound to be lingering mental scars from that astonishing surrender to the Cheetahs from a position of 32-11 supremacy, aren’t there?

    Key head-to-head:
    Yes, I know I had CORY JANE featured in this slot last week for the All Black right wing’s duel with the Cheetahs’ slippery Willie le Roux. But I couldn’t resist naming him again, as this time he comes up against another electric, in-form opponent in the shape of LWAZI MVOVO. The Bok flier scored a breakout ripper of a try last weekend against the Brumbies, and is the senior wing for the Sharks in many respects now, after seasoned Odwa Ndungane went home injured this week.

    Recent history:
    The Sharks pulled clear in a handsome second half after a 13-13 prior deadlock to prevail 40-24 in Durban last season, including two tries from the afore-mentioned Mvovo. But they will also be buoyed for the latest challenge by the knowledge that they won 29-26 away in 2010.

    Rob Houwing’s prediction:
    They have finally given a breather to the superhuman Bismarck du Plessis, who nevertheless might offer some oomph off the bench, but the Sharks might just have enough in the tank away to leave New Plymouth with a win – especially if their defensive game doesn’t have fits of ineptitude here. Sharks by eight.

    SA GAME 4

    CHEETAHS v LIONS, Bloemfontein


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


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

    Background:
    Perhaps the best hope the struggling Lions have is that the Cheetahs succumb to complacency and/or travel fatigue after their refreshingly stellar tour of Australasia. There was also the chance that the rare, initially-scheduled “second home” of Welkom for Adriaan Strauss and company might boast a fair bit of travelling support for the visitors, as it is only a couple of hours’ drive from Joburg, but then the game was switched back to Bloemfontein at short notice. Momentum seems firmly with the Cheetahs, especially with the Lions jittery about possible “relegation” issues with only one win from five starts. 

    Key head-to-head:
    As I featured the Johan Goosen v Elton Jantjies flyhalf duel in this slot for the first-round encounter, I’ll desist from doing so again, however influential it may be once more. Instead, how about the scrum match-up between the Cheetahs’ rolling-barrel loosehead COENIE OOSTHUIZEN and the Lions’ No 3 PATRIC CILLIERS, who has suddenly become that franchise’s most experienced prop? How the latter holds up to the sheer bulk of Big Coenie at the set-piece could be crucial to the Lions’ hopes of go-forward ball, although expect the Free Stater to be a handful again in driving play ... ask the blown-away Hurricanes about his menace here! 

    Recent history:
    A good tonic for the Lions is that they edged the first-round conference encounter 27-25 on the opening weekend of the season, thanks in no small measure to a record nine penalties off the boot of Jantjies. Strangely, in each derby meeting between the two last year, the away team won, so that could be a wee applecart-toppler here!

    Rob Houwing’s prediction:
    When the Cheetahs get a head of steam going, they are a dangerous proposition and I don’t see them easing off the accelerator too much here. The Lions aren’t being slaughtered whenever they lose thus far, so that’s something to take heart from, but I foresee a fifth loss on the trot nevertheless. Cheetahs by 10.
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