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    Bulls to get going at last!

    2014-02-28 08:16
    Cape Town - Sport24 chief writer Rob Houwing, in his regular South African-geared Super Rugby preview, predicts predominantly tight victories for the Bulls, Stormers and Cheetahs this weekend.

    SPORT24 PICK OF THE CROP

    BULLS v LIONS, Pretoria

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

    SuperSport commentators: Owen Nkumane and Warren Brosnihan (Eng), John van Rensburg and Toks van der Linde (Afrik), Lonwabo Mtimka and Lungelo Payi (Xho) 

    Weather outlook: Cloudy, mild, possible light rain, windless

    Background: My suspicion that the Bulls will just about pull this one off -- breaking their two-game duck-- is based more around the desperation that will drive them than any special qualities I expect out of the team selected. For one thing, I’d have preferred young Handre Pollard getting a start than falling back on the journeyman Jacques-Louis Potgieter at flyhalf. I imagine there will even be a fair few Loftus stalwarts wishing to see their favourites put the ball through hands a bit more: a kick-obsessed game is fine if you have an awesome pack but that is no longer really the case. As for the admirable Lions, I feel terrible making them underdogs again (especially after the egg on my and other faces following the 34-10 Stormers win). Their team spirit is fantastic, but home advantage will ever so slightly tilt the scales in favour of Flip van der Merwe and company. Oh, and Marnitz Boshoff is due a leaner points haul this week ... isn’t he?

    Key head-to-head: After two pretty indecisive appearances as a substitute, the great VICTOR MATFIELD makes his maiden start of 2014 in the Bulls’ No 5 jersey. This is really the acid test, then, of the wisdom or otherwise of the lineout king’s comeback. It will be no cakewalk for him: up against him in the battle for aerial supremacy (plus more general lock chores) is one of the Lions’ steeliest figures in FRANCO VAN DER MERWE. Neither man will lack research on the other, as they are renowned scientists of their specific trades and set high standards. Accuracy of throwing-in by the respective hookers, Callie Visagie and Robbie Coetzee, could be pivotal in determining whether any pinching of ball between them takes place ... 

    Recent history between teams: Not applicable last year (Lions absent from competition)

    Rob Houwing’s prediction: Bulls by three points

    SA GAME 2

    STORMERS v HURRICANES, Cape Town

    When: Friday, 19:10
    Referee: Steve Walsh (Aus)
    TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD

    SuperSport commentators: Matthew Pearce and Bob Skinstad (Eng), Hennie Koortzen and Kobus Wiese (Afrik), Kaunda Ntunja and Makhaya Jack (Xho)

    Weather outlook: Partly cloudy, mild, gentle breeze

    Background: Backlash ... will it come? It certainly ought to for the Stormers, stung by events at Ellis Park. Whether they have the weight of quality among existing personnel to overcome the Hurricanes hurdle remains to be seen ... the Newlands faithful will bite their nails anxiously if the free-running New Zealanders hit their straps early and register a couple of tries, because then the Stormers’ own attacking acumen (or otherwise, some feel) will be massively under the spotlight once more. Fortunately the visitors are not too formidably-staffed in the boiler room and it is here where the home eight should earn a key foothold if they lift their game from the Lions fiasco – where the Stormers, for all their problems, did often enough command good real estate.

    Key head-to-head: The No 13 channel will hardly be policed by rookies here: two of the staunchest characters of first-class and Test backline play, Stormers captain JEAN DE VILLIERS and his counterpart CONRAD SMITH lock horns both in leadership terms and direct personal battle. Smith was supposed be taking one of those sensible sabbaticals All Blacks players are occasionally granted, but it seems to have been postponed and that could be ominous for the Stormers. Mind you, De Villiers is desperately due some time off the game as well but that ain’t going to happen any time soon, either! I still much prefer the veteran at inside centre, but he is very versatile and this gives Damian de Allende, one of few Stormers players with fair fire in his belly at wing last weekend, a chance to be influential with his physical style closer to the action at No 12. 

    Recent history between teams: April 26, 2013: Hurricanes 16 Stormers 18 (Palmerston North)

    Rob Houwing’s prediction: Stormers by five points

    SA GAME 3

    REBELS v CHEETAHS, Melbourne

    When: Friday, 10:40 (SA time)
    Referee: Angus Gardner (Aus)
    TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD

    SuperSport commentators: Australian panel

    Weather outlook: Partly cloudy, mild, gentle breeze

    Background: The Cheetahs have a deep-rooted reputation as sleepy starters to their overseas tours; SARU’s stats people advise that they have only triumphed in one of eight openers to their Australasian legs. This time needs to be different: the Rebels, still one of the weaker Aussie conference sides, shape up as potentially the easiest of the four foes abroad, so it is critical that the men from Bloemfontein hit the ground running. There is a reasonable promise of a firm surface and decent weather, so this could also be the Cheetahs’ opportunity to get into try-scoring mojo. The Rebels have not yet knocked over these opponents in three attempts, so will not lack motivation to set that right. But their late start to Super Rugby 2014 (this is their opener) could count against them; the South African will be less likely to run out of steam in the last quarter. 

    Key head-to-head: Lacking more and more, it seems, in hardened international-calibre customers these days, the Rebels will rely a lot on the fire and ability of captain SCOTT HIGGINBOTHAM at No 8 for their go-forward quest. The Wallaby and former Reds stalwart will be thoroughly tested, however, by the Cheetahs’ own dynamo in the berth, PHILIP VAN DER WALT, who is already in pretty lethal loose-forward alliance this season with Lappies Labuschagne and Boom Prinsloo (the last-named player is faring superbly at open-side in the current absence of one Heinrich Brussow). If the Cheetahs tight five plays its cards right, Van der Walt may get more front-foot licence than Higginbotham does.

    Recent history between teams:  March 30, 2013: Cheetahs 34 Rebels 16 (Bloemfontein)

    Rob Houwing’s prediction: Cheetahs by two points

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

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