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    Bulls should bank full house

    2012-05-03 15:12
    Cape Town - Rob Houwing, in his South African Super Rugby Week 11 preview, backs the Bulls to begin their overseas leg with a bonus-point win in Melbourne.


    REBELS v BULLS, Melbourne

    When: Friday, 11:40 SA time
    Referee: Andrew Lees (Aus)
    TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD

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

    This is the first time the “new-look” Bulls are touring abroad, of course, but at least they have been afforded what might be termed a dream start, as the modest Rebels await their first visit to Melbourne’s AAMI Park. To put it bluntly, an upset reverse here would be a near-disaster for the Bulls, leaving them potentially vulnerable in all three appreciably tougher, remaining fixtures in Australasia. But the Cheetahs have already shown the way in this city, winning 33-26 in a thriller a few weeks ago, and the Rebels only have wins over the Blues and Force to show for their troubles in eight outings thus far. The Bulls are on a three-game winning roll and really ought to stretch it to four.

    Key head-to-head:
    The versatile, ever-slippery Wallaby KURTLEY BEALE, who has had a stop-start kind of season through injury, is at No 10 for the Rebels (over-rated, over-hyped Danny Cipriani’s suddenly flown the coop) and probably represents the best hope of the underdogs doing some damage at the Bulls’ end of the park. He’s up against the visitors’ points machine MORNE STEYN in a duel likely to be keenly watched by Bok coach Heyneke Meyer as the England Tests draw much closer ...

    Recent history:
    Last year, when these teams met for the very first time at Loftus in mid-May, the Bulls had little trouble coming out on top 47-10. They ran in seven tries, three of them going the way of inside centre Wynand Olivier.

    Rob Houwing’s prediction:
    This may well not be as one-sided as last season’s encounter in Pretoria, but the Bulls do enter it fresh off a bye and with front-five bruisers like Flip van der Merwe and Dean Greyling fit again. It may take some time for the floodgates to open, but I fancy the Bulls to complete a four-try job in the final quarter after a gradual softening-up process. Bulls by 12.

    SA GAME 2


    When: Saturday, 17:05
    Referee: Steve Walsh (Aus)
    TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD

    Long-range weather forecast:
    Cloudy, mild, chance of rain, light breeze.

    It’s now or never for the Sharks: lose another one at this point and it is almost certainly safe to say they will play out the rest of the campaign as also-rans. Having crashed to the Chiefs in Durban a fortnight ago – a game they might have won with a bit more gumption -- they simply cannot afford another home loss, even if they would just about remain “mathematically” in the picture if they also come a cropper at the hands of the Highlanders. Although the New Zealanders will be in good mental fettle after their remarkable escape act in Bloemfontein, you will see below that their modern record against the Sharks isn’t marvellous ... something in the erratic hosts’ favour?

    Key head-to-head:
    The Highlanders were a bit tardy in naming their side for the Shark Tank, but I expected them to station that tireless marauder ADAM THOMSON at blindside flank ... which puts him in an intriguing match-up with dynamic Sharks No 7 MARCELL COETZEE, who starts in a home loose trio (also comprising Messrs Botes and Daniel) certainly notable for its pace and mobility.

    Recent history:
    In 2011 these teams avoided each other, but a year earlier the Sharks snapped a horrible five-game losing streak from the very start of the campaign by winning 30-16 away. They can also boast victory in the last Durban meeting – 23-15 in 2009 – and have, in fact, not lost to these foes since 2005 when they suffered a home 43-7 embarrassment in a season where they ended last.

    Rob Houwing’s prediction:
    I bravely tipped the Sharks to see off the Chiefs, and many people thought I was nuts. I guess they’ll feel justified in retaining that view now, though there were spells at advanced stages in that game when a Sharks win looked highly likely! After much teetering on this one, I’m going with Keegan Daniel’s men again, for my sins, in a nail-biter. Sharks to do it by two.

    SA GAME 3

    CHEETAHS v FORCE, Bloemfontein

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

    Long-range weather forecast:
    Clear skies, mild, gentle breeze.

    It’s pointless dwelling obsessively on poor Sias Ebersohn’s bang-in-front late penalty gremlin in the gut-wrenching loss to the Highlanders. But the fact remains that it was the game in which the Cheetahs probably surrendered any hopes of challenging cheekily for a playoffs berth. They may well be simply playing for pride henceforth -- though they’ve done that quite impressively towards the end of previous campaigns. Under the circumstances we may see a fairly loose, high-scoring duel with the innocuous Force, who come off a fairly resounding home loss to the Stormers.

    Key head-to-head:
    Not much need for head-scratching over this one: I think it’s safe to say the big match-up is between the foremost fetchers in South Africa and Australia. Yes, HEINRICH BRUSSOW encounters Force skipper DAVID POCOCK down where you get the fingernails really dirty! It’s a resumption of a World Cup 2011 quarter-final tussle that sadly couldn’t develop because of Brussow’s game-ending injury in the 20th minute. Let hostilities resume ... 

    Recent history:
    There was no 2011 meeting, but in 2010 the Cheetahs scored a comfortable 29-14 victory, also in Bloemfontein. It broke a four-year duck, the Western Australians having edged all prior matches since their introduction to Super Rugby in 2006.

    Rob Houwing’s prediction:
    South Africans always wanting to see the enterprising Cheetahs do well will be hoping they take out some “anger” constructively on the visitors from Perth, considering what happened against the Highlanders after they’d done so many hard yards towards a triumph. I am fairly confident they will see them off at home ... Cheetahs by nine?

    SA GAME 4

    CHIEFS v LIONS, Pukekohe

    When: Saturday, 09:35
    Referee: Ian Smith (Aus)
    TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD

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

    Having seasoned props JC Janse van Rensburg and CJ van der Linde ready to ease their way back into the mix is some consolation for the Lions at a time when otherwise there isn’t too much of that around! They embark on their overseas tour still deep in the basement mire (especially as far as the SA conference is concerned), and not having won for what seems an eternity. Can “tour spirit” come to their partial rescue, a la last year? It’s unlikely to kick in first-up against the log-leading Chiefs, who are happy to schedule this game at the relative backwater venue of the Bayer Growers Stadium in Pukekohe. The Chiefs are sure to target this as an easy-pickings game for a bonus point, perhaps even before the interval! It’s time for the Lions to recapture a semblance of self-respect, at the very least.

    Key head-to-head:
    Will a start for raw, 22-year-old ROSS CRONJE at scrumhalf give the Lions a turbo-boost they could so do with? The blond dynamo has looked energetic off the bench and deserves this start-out opportunity, but he’s up against a steely old campaigner in the Chiefs’ All Black-capped BRENDON LEONARD, who will no doubt use all his wiles to try to unsettle him. 

    Recent history:
    Last season this encounter took place in the Big Smoke and it was a close one: the Chiefs edged it 34-30 in mid-campaign and had to hold off a concerted late charge by the hosts. The previous year was also a Jo’burg affair ... that almost absurd 72-65 ping-pong also won by the Waitako outfit.

    Rob Houwing’s prediction:
    Sadly the Lions’ season thus far suggests that it is simply a matter of: hmm, how much will they lose by? Even with a gutsy, resilient showing, I can’t see the visitors succumbing by anything less than 20 points.

    *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing
    Read More On:  bulls super 15 rob houwing rugby

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