Can Burden contain Strauss?
Craig Burden (Gallo Images)
SPORT24 PICK OF THE CROP
SHARKS v CHEETAHS, Durban
When: Saturday, 17:05
Referee: Jaco Peyper (SA)
TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD
Long-range weather forecast: Partly cloudy, mild, chance of light rain.
Background: The Cheetahs still seek that elusive last win – a sixth – to ensure their most productive season in the competition yet; they come off successive losses to the Bulls and then the Stormers in last weekend’s near-mudbath. That said, there’s still much more at stake for the Sharks, suddenly considered dark horses for the title by some pundits on the strength of that handsome thumping of the Bulls ... even if they haven’t actually clinched a spot in the finals series yet! With Pat Lambie back in the mix for an increasingly menacing-looking backline, and Willem Alberts ready to add some assault and battery off the bench, it’s difficult to see them messing this one up.
Key head-to-head: Although Bismarck du Plessis, nursing what is clearly considered a reasonably minor knee problem, lurks handily on the bench for the Sharks, many home supporters will be gratified to see a rare Super Rugby start for Durban-born deputy CRAIG BURDEN, not quite the same barnstorming presence in the tight-loose but a tigerish grafter with some good pace to burn as well. It’s a tough gig, though, coming in from the relative cold and having to deal with one of the competition’s finest No 2s in Cheetahs inspiration ADRIAAN STRAUSS. Still, the presence alongside him of in-form Bok props Beast Mtawarira and Jannie du Plessis at scrum-time will help ...
Recent history: In the first round of the 2012 campaign, the Sharks won 34-20 in Bloemfontein in mid-May. It was a commanding four tries to one, with Freddie Michalak grabbing one in a personal haul of 19 points. The Durban match last season was also won by the Sharks, 24-9 in the opening round.
Rob Houwing’s prediction: It’s always risky contemplating what the moody Sharks will do from one week to the next, but with home advantage in this needle derby and the likelihood of transferring at least some mojo from the dismantling of the Bulls at the same venue, Keegan Daniel’s team ought to earn “maximum” here even if the Cheetahs threaten the chalk a fair bit as well. Sharks to win by nine points.
SA GAME 2
BULLS v LIONS, Pretoria
When: Saturday, 19:10
Referee: Craig Joubert (SA)
TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD
Long-range weather forecast: Partly cloudy, cool, moderate breeze.
Background: That was quite an ego-bashing the Bulls took from the Sharks last Friday night: coach Frans Ludeke must be anxious for his charges to produce a “response” now. You got the feeling that the Bulls didn’t quite arrive at the races mentally in Durban, for whatever reason -- but only a return to maximum intensity will ensure them of a place in the playoffs now. Coming via a home date with the weakest team in their conference, the bounce-back quest ought to yield the necessary harvest. Many neutrals and the long-suffering Jo’burg public, of course, will be willing the Lions to show some rare levels of motivation in what may yet be a controversial swansong of sorts for them.
Key head-to-head: With a bit of luck we’ll see some free-flowing action in this one, as the Bulls go on a likely try hunt, and the
traditionally hard pitch and thin air make for a high-tempo affair. In that environment, I’m looking forward to the clash between prolific-scoring Bulls left wing BJORN BASSON, who dotted a beauty against the Cheetahs at Loftus a fortnight ago, and the slippery but also suitably combative LIONEL MAPOE out wide on the right for the visitors.
Recent history: The Bulls won the first-round meeting at Coca-Cola Park by a comfortable enough 32-18 in the end, just ahead of their overseas tour. In the corresponding Loftus game last year, the Lions put up a grand fight before succumbing 30-23 and scoring two tries to their more fancied opponents’ three; Morne Steyn’s 15 points off the tee helped provide the necessary cushion.
Rob Houwing’s prediction: I believe the Bulls win be suitably stung by events in Durban last weekend and produce enough to win a potentially high-scoring affair ... the home side by 14 points, with the (perhaps necessary) four tries!
SA GAME 3
STORMERS v REBELS, Cape Town
When: Saturday, 15:00
Referee: Lourens van der Merwe (SA)
TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD
Long-range weather forecast: Partly cloudy, chilly, moderate wind.
Background: Let’s face it, for all the talk of a fairly sterile game-plan, the winning culture the Stormers boast reflects very well on their players and coaching personnel, not least because they have had to dig so remarkably deep into their reserves at times. So it will be a truly jaw-dropping event if the Stormers get absolutely nothing out of a “dream” last home date with the limited Rebels and are somehow shoved out of an automatic semis berth by the Brumbies. As Jean de Villiers says, any team can beat any other on a good day in this competition ... but is lightning going to strike here? It would take a brave soul to venture so.
Key head-to-head: With the Rebels’ line-up not known at the time of writing, it was unclear whether experienced Welsh international GARETH DELVE, who had flu issues at the start of their SA safari, would start in the No 8 berth at Newlands. But whoever does, ought to severely test DEON FOURIE anyway as the versatile Stormers hooker has an experimental outing in this position of high responsibility. The hosts’ front five are overdue for a truly dominating performance; it would make Fourie’s task so much easier if so ...
Recent history: This will be the first Newlands encounter between the two, and in the only prior meeting last season – the Rebels’ debut in Super Rugby – the touring Stormers won 40-3 with a bonus point in Melbourne.
Rob Houwing’s prediction: With the weather forecast much improved from earlier expectations, there really should be no excuse for the Stormers finally winning a game with a bit of panache – in other words, with a first-time four-try bonus point in 2012. Stormers by 18-20 points.
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