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    Bulls to earn a full house

    2013-05-17 09:01

    Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

    Cape Town – Sport24 chief writer Rob Houwing, in his regular South African Super Rugby preview, predicts wins for the Bulls, Sharks and Stormers ... but another blow to the Cheetahs’ last-six aspirations.



    When: Saturday, 17:05
    Referee: Jaco Peyper (SA)
    TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD
    SuperSport commentators: Hugh Bladen and Joel Stransky (Eng), Hennie Koortzen and Jaco van der Westhuyzen (Afrik), Kaunda Ntunja and Makhaya Jack (Xho)
    Weather outlook: Partly cloudy, mild, light breeze

    Background: All the SA conference-leading Bulls need to do, to remind themselves that complacency is their only significant stumbling block to a comfortable triumph over the Highlanders at Loftus, is examine their stumbles in each of the last two fixtures (one away, one home) against these particular foes. They are certainly due to stop the trend and I firmly believe they will: I might have been less gung-ho on that score had the basement-hogging Otago outfit added the scalp of the Kings last week to their overdue victory over the Sharks. But they didn’t, and looked fairly ramshackle defensively as they returned to losing ways in PE. With the Bulls playing a confident, up-tempo brand of rugby at present, and hopefully suitably freshened rather than made stale by a bye, Pierre Spies’s men look odds-on for a five-point booty ...

    Key head-to-head: They are two of the more mercurial scrumhalves on the global circuit, although neither the Bulls’ FRANCOIS HOUGAARD or the Highlanders’ likely No 9 for this clash AARON SMITH have experienced entirely plain sailing from a form point of view in recent times. So when the Springbok goes head to the head with the All Black, expect the respective national coaches to watch with more than passing interest. Hougaard has been included ahead of the in-form Jano Vermaak for this clash, so there is special pressure on him to tick some boxes even with franchise coach Frans Ludeke.

    Recent history between teams: 2012: Highlanders 16 Bulls 11; 2011: Bulls 28 Highlanders 35

    Rob Houwing’s prediction: Bulls by 14 points

    SA GAME 2

    CHEETAHS v REDS, Bloemfontein

    When: Saturday, 19:10
    Referee: Craig Joubert (SA)
    TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD
    SuperSport commentators: Matthew Pearce and Bob Skinstad (Eng), Christo Olivier and Werner Swanepoel (Afrik), Lonwabo Mtimka and Mzwandile Stick (Xho)
    Weather outlook: Fine, mild, windless

    Background: I am as keen as the next guy (well, certainly in South Africa) to see the Cheetahs make it to a first-time playoffs phase. But I also have a niggling feeling that a nervous flutter will have set in, following that costly little home defeat to the Hurricanes when their tactical approach turned rather eccentric. Now the wily, multi-dimensional Reds are in town, and pressing strongly for a home semi-final after getting back to winning ways by thumping the Sharks. Their vibrant all-round game, an ethic shared by their “Bloem” opponents, could make this a very easy-on-the-eye night-time showpiece on Saturday. If in-form Coenie Oosthuizen and company in the Cheetahs pack produce their A-game to set up a decent platform, of course the hosts have a good chance, but a gut feel says the Reds will be cerebral enough to sneak this one.  

    Key head-to-head:
    Many Australians consider the still only 20-year-old LIAM GILL the best pilferer in the game. The Reds team for this clash had not been finalised at the time of writing but if the 2012 Wallaby Test first-timer takes his place on the side of the scrum, he will go tantalisingly into battle with the greatly more experienced dynamo HEINRICH BRUSSOW in the turnovers department. Poor Brussow is still having to convince Heyneke Meyer he is worthy of a Bok recall ... mastery against a high-calibre rival here might help his case enormously if the national coach can be swayed. 

    Recent history between teams: 2012: no fixture; 2011: Reds 41 Cheetahs 8

    Rob Houwing’s prediction:
    Reds by three points

    SA GAME 3

    REBELS v STORMERS, Melbourne

    When: Friday, 11:40
    Referee: Mike Fraser (NZ)
    TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD
    Commentators: Australian panel
    Weather outlook: Partly cloudy, cool, moderate wind

    Significantly reshuffled in personnel, either by necessity or design, the Stormers are under some pressure to show that they can, indeed, consistently produce try-scoring opportunities. It will be disappointing, for instance, if they grind out a grim win here via Joe Pietersen’s efficiency off the tee. The Rebels are a wild and woolly outfit, with an ability to cross the “wash” themselves but also to leak abundantly: let’s not forget that the Capetonians need not just wins but bonus-point wins from now on if they are to somehow grab a wildcard ticket to the playoffs. The Stormers did the business consummately the last time they played in Melbourne, two years ago, although they were dreadfully scrappy in also winning the 2012 Newlands fixture. The time is ripe for them to restore some smiles to their supporters’ faces, and may do so – especially if they are suitably irked by their quite possibly high-handed disciplinarian treatment at the hands of SANZAR earlier on tour?   

    Key head-to-head: Yes, it’s a long-time beef of mine that the Stormers aren’t helped in their elusive quest to bank tries regularly by the imbalance – in favour of close-quarters brawn – of their current first-choice loose trio of Messrs Kolisi, Elstadt and Vermeulen. (There’s certainly no Rob Louw or Bob Skinstad among them!) But with injuries to the latter two, the time has come for another close look at the credentials of a more athletic presence, in young tearaway No 8 NIZAAM CARR. Might he add some oomph, through smart linking play with the backs, to the Stormers’ attack? Not that he will have too free a passage to roaming excellence from a certain SCOTT HIGGINBOTHAM, the rugged acting Rebels captain, and his opposite number on the day.  

    Recent history between teams: 2012: Stormers 26 Rebels 21; 2011: Rebels 3 Stormers 40

    Rob Houwing’s prediction:
    Stormers by seven points

    SA GAME 4

    FORCE v SHARKS, Perth

    When: Friday, 13:45
    Referee: James Leckie (Aus)
    TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD
    Commentators: Australian panel
    Weather outlook: Partly cloudy, mild, moderate breeze

    Background: The Force, after spending a lot of time on the road to this point (not something South African teams will have too much sympathy for, it is true) are starting a lovely little four-strong run-in of Perth games. They can also be toughish nuts to crack in their West Australian stronghold. But the Sharks have a strong recent record of handsome triumphs against these opponents, and frankly would settle for just a one-point victory to break a depressing five-game duck. I believe they’ll put the Force away fairly comfortably, which may sound a brave forecast under current circumstances, but part of that theory is based around the likelihood that they may produce a show of unity after the rumpus surrounding things captain Keegan Daniel is “alleged” to have said around cultural influences in the Sharks camp. I may start to believe that where there’s smoke there’s fire, mind you, if they trip up yet again! 

    Key head-to-head: Getting big Willem Alberts back into the groove is part of the Sharks’ quest to gradually restore the main muscle-men to their pack (Bismarck du Plessis and Beast Mtawarira are not far away). But they are resting promising young Pieter-Steph du Toit from their second row for this one, and another bruiser in ANTON BRESLER will want to cash in on a welcome start back in the No 4 jersey. Up against him is the Force’s shrewd 2012 recruit from the Chiefs, TOBY LYNN, a seven-year relative veteran of the Super Rugby landscape. Their tussle won’t be for the faint-hearted.

    Recent history between teams: 2012: Sharks 53 Force 11; 2011: Force 12 Sharks 39

    Rob Houwing’s prediction: Sharks by 10 points.

    *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

    Read More On:  bulls super 15 rob houwing rugby

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