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    Crusaders to halt Stormers?

    2012-04-12 12:58
    Juan de Jongh (Gallo Images)
    Cape Town - Rob Houwing, in his SA Super Rugby Week 8 preview, suspects the Crusaders will be pumped-up enough at home to pip the Stormers.


    CRUSADERS v STORMERS, Christchurch

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

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

    The unbeaten Stormers enter this game knowing that defeat – it’d be their first in seven starts – would not represent the end of the world, especially as they are already up and running on their overseas leg with a merciless snuff-out of the Highlanders. Their opponents, on the other hand, are at a bit of a crossroads, really needing to earn a home win to begin a climb up the table from the middle regions. Still, the visitors have resisted any temptation to “rotate” so clearly intend to retain their winning culture if they can. It could be a titanic struggle under the circumstances.

    Key head-to-head:
    I had DAN CARTER in this slot last week for his duel with Morne Steyn - and the latter certainly shaded it both off the tee and in general play. But now the great No 10, still feeling his way back from injury, has debatably been installed at inside centre for this one. It is a creative move, but also dangerous when you consider that he is up against an in-form Bok specialist there, JEAN DE VILLIERS, who will doubtless have a little dart or two at him if he gets half a chance ...

    Recent history:
    Last year, the Crusaders ominously saw off the Stormers twice, and each time at Newlands into the bargain. The first was a close and grinding tussle in ordinary season (20-14), but then the ‘Saders brutally ended the challenge of Schalk Burger and company in a one-sided semi-final, too, their scrum playing a pivotal role in a 29-10 outcome. None of the current Stormers crop have ever tasted victory in Christchurch, either.

    Rob Houwing’s prediction:
    I know that I fatally under-estimated the Stormers last weekend, figuring that Dunedin would see them lose some crucial puff after their lengthy travel and the residual effects of the derby against the Bulls. And then they blew the Highlanders away! So should I restore faith in the pace-setters? Hmm, I’m going Crusaders in a close contest, given their slightly greater need and urgency to win at this stage, and the likely wrath they’ll exhibit over the eye-gouging rumpus against another set of South Africans last week ...

    SA GAME 2

    LIONS v BULLS, Johannesburg

    When: Saturday, 19:10
    Referee: Garratt Williamson (NZ)
    TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD

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

    Can we say it’s official ... that the Lions are indeed basement-type material in this important season from a possible relegation point of view? They looked ominously that way in being whipped by the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein for a fifth loss in five. I can’t see the habit changing when they entertain the Bulls, despite the old gun-smoke element to the Highveld rivalry. The Bulls were patchy even in a key victory over the Cruaders at Loftus, and will seek a more complete performance at Coca-Cola Park. Perhaps it will come.  

    Key head-to-head:
    I’m looking forward to seeing the respective captains, JOSH STRAUSS and PIERRE SPIES, not only pulling team strings but pitting their wits and skills against each other at No 8. Strauss passed a fitness test to take his spot – the injury-ravaged Lions must have been desperate to provide a green light! – and may just have to battle through a bit of a pain barrier. Spies has continued to be an enigma, with fits of barnstorming brilliance sometimes counter-balanced by lingering question marks around his overall work-rate. Here’s a chance to settle those doubts against a known, 80-minutes opponent.

    Recent history:
    Last year the Lions put up a tenacious fight in each conference encounter, at least banking a losing bonus point at both Coca-Cola Park and Loftus. The first-round fixture (on the opening weekend of the season) went the Bulls’ way 24-20 in Johannesburg, and when they met again in round six, it was 30-23 in Pretoria.

    Rob Houwing’s prediction:
    “Lions go down after gritty fight.” Heard that expression or seen that poster before? I fancy you will again after Saturday night’s scrap. I do give the weakened Lions a 30 percent chance of a big upset, before their home faithful, but no more than that. The Bulls may even target a four-try victory here. But the home team’s combative qualities and desperation to climb out of the pickle jar will limit the damage to a five-point Bulls win, however many tries are involved in the contest ...

    SA GAME 3

    CHEETAHS v CHIEFS, Bloemfontein

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

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

    Nobody is really talking them up that much, which possibly suits the Chiefs as they slipped quietly into top spot on the New Zealand conference table after last weekend’s activity. Beating the Force 20-12 was a decent enough way to “stop over” in Perth en route to South Africa, where this Bloem match-up against the Cheetahs sees them tackling another slightly surprise package with upward aspirations. We could see high-tempo value for money.

    Key head-to-head:
    The Cheetahs’ backline oozes flair and desire, but comfortingly sandwiched between these sort of players on Saturday is earthy No 12 ANDRIES STRAUSS, whose task it will be to use his strength and tackling relish to keep (or try to keep) a certain SONNY BILL WILLIAMS in check. The sometimes-boxer Williams set up a key try in Perth last weekend with one of his unfailing offloads in the tackle, so he arrives hardly lacking form, it seems. Mind you, he doesn’t enjoy the sort of cult status in the Free State that he does in the Cape ...

    Recent history:
    These sides avoided each other last season, but the previous encounter, in Hamilton in 2010, marked a bit of history for the Cheetahs: the 25-25 thriller meant they avoided defeat in New Zealand for the very first time in the competition.

    Rob Houwing’s prediction:
    I see-sawed violently on this one (the Chiefs are the sort of team well capable of turning on the running charm on harder South African pitches at times) before deciding that the Cheetahs are capable of nicking it, and simultaneously doing title-aspirant compatriots like the Stormers and Bulls a favour. I’m backing Naka Drotske’s charges to take it by six points after some end-to-end fare.

    SA GAME 4

    BLUES v SHARKS, Auckland

    When: Friday, 09:35
    Referee: Steve Walsh (Aus)
    TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD

    Long-range weather forecast:
    Cloudy, mild, moderate breeze.

    I thought the Sharks hit a rather depressing low point in the way they surrendered to the Hurricanes last weekend. They had some stirring moments, as they always do, but their defensive organisation remained a worrying shambles – enough to interest the even-more-ropey Blues into believing they can begin a revival quest in this Eden Park meeting. Mind you, there appears to be some strife in the home camp, and bear in mind that a Sharks win in their last tour outing would keep their greater campaign more healthy than it may seem ...

    Key head-to-head:
    Those who enjoy their grapple ‘n grunt factor will appreciate the match-up in the front row between crusty All Blacks loosehead prop TONY WOODCOCK and the Springbok tighthead incumbent JANNIE DU PLESSIS. The Sharks’ not-always-so-good doctor will be under pressure to keep his temper in check here, although he is just beginning to produce decent scrummaging standards again after an iffy start to the season. It is probably hoped that he gets an edge over Woodcock, as still-rookie Dale Chadwick on the other side will have his hands full against big Charlie Faumuina ... 

    Recent history:
    The Sharks have beaten the Blues a noteworthy seven times in a row, including a semi-final. You have to go back as far as 2005 for the last time the Blues emerged victorious - 36-13 in Auckland. In last season's Durban meeting, the Sharks came through by a comfortable 26-12 margin.

    Rob Houwing’s prediction:
    Sorry, Sharks. You let me down badly in my SuperBru tips last weekend after I backed you to take the ‘Canes. Your “punishment” is my gut feel that the Blues will edge this battle of slightly fragile Super Rugby customers, with tour fatigue perhaps hampering the visitors as they mentally place a foot on the plane. Blues by ... seven?

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

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