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    ‘Dim’ to boot Stormers home!

    2015-05-08 11:16

    Cape Town – Sport24 chief writer Rob Houwing, in round 13 of his regular South African-focused Super Rugby previews this year, believes the much-debated Demetri Catrakilis might play an influential role in nudging the Stormers to a precious Newlands triumph over the Brumbies.

    With even less conviction, his patriotic juices – yes, not always a safe route -- tell him the Lions may just nick a tight victory over the dangerous Highlanders, hampered by their long haul to the Highveld.

    But pure common sense, alas, suggests the Sharks will be up against it for the second successive weekend in New Zealand, with the log-leading Hurricanes strongly fancied to do the business at the Cake Tin.

    *Rob is currently lying 109th out of 1,679 tipsters in the Sport24 Super Rugby pool on SuperBru, and 7,823rd out of around 191,000 contestants globally with a win success record of 66%.



    When: Saturday, 17:05

    Referee: Stuart Berry (SA)

    TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD

    SuperSport commentators: Matthew Pearce & Bob Skinstad (Eng), John van Rensburg & Kobus Wiese (Afrik), Lonwabo Mtimka & Lungelo Payi (Xho)

    Weather outlook: Clear, mild, moderate wind

    Background: There’s going to be an unseasonally stiff little south-easter blowing at Newlands on Saturday evening, if some weather reports are to be believed. If that is the case, it is notorious for causing a swirling effect in the old stadium – not ideal for kickers unless they possess good local acumen. One such person, of course, is Demetri Catrakilis, often lambasted for supposedly not offering enough oomph to his outside backs ... yet standing on a glorious run of 27 successful place-kicks on the trot. As I suggested earlier in the week, the Stormers will happily put on hold just for the moment any attempt to restore a “risk” element to their play if they can simply bag a basic victory over these fellow-challengers for the playoffs. Frankly, Catrakilis has carried the can a little unfairly for the team’s general bluntness on attack – and before his costly midway substitution in Bloemfontein last week, he had been tackling tenaciously as well. Besides, all quibbles will go on hold if he bangs over a hatful of penalties to carry the Stormers home against the Brumbies. That’s more likely if the hosts significantly boss the scrums – as we know they can – and greatly buck up their lineout and breakdown play to ensure healthy field position. This Aussie side are a wily bunch, but even if they earn slight superiority in the try column, my money stays on a picture-imperfect Stormers win ...      

    Key head-to-head: There’s a scary gulf statistically between the Brumbies (top of the entire pile, 91.1% efficiency) and Stormers (14th, 78.3%) in lineout play at present. In addition, the visitors’ No 5 lock SAM CARTER boasts the most individual grabs in the competition with 46 – eight clear of anyone else. There is nobody from the Stormers among the top 10, although with Argentinean Test stalwart MANNY CARIZZA fully fit again and starting opposite Carter, coach Allister Coetzee will be praying they turn a corner in this department. Still, I am not wholly convinced by the decision to persevere with Bongi Mbonambi at the expense of Scarra Ntubeni (perhaps also a better pilferer on the deck?) at hooker.  

    Last result between sides: March 22, 2014: Brumbies 25 Stormers 15 (Canberra)

    Rob Houwing’s prediction: Stormers by four points

    SA GAME 2

    LIONS v HIGHLANDERS, Johannesburg

    When: Saturday, 15:00

    Referee: Craig Joubert (SA)

    TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD

    SuperSport commentators: Owen Nkumane & Joel Stransky (Eng), Hennie Koortzen & Derick Hougaard (Afrik), Kaunda Ntunja & Makhaya Jack (Xho)

    Weather outlook: Partly cloudy, mild, light breeze

    Background: I see-sawed crazily for a good while on this one, before venturing for forecasting needs that the Lions will pull it off. The Highlanders are arguably stronger on paper, collectively, and with a few likelier individual game-breakers as well. But you could also have said that about opponents of the Johannesburg outfit on other occasions this season ... and the Lions have duly seen them off. I just figured that, given the excellent conditioning of Johan Ackermann’s charges and the shrewd way he rotates players, they may boss the crucial final quarter or so, when the tourists’ travel-weary legs may buckle a bit at altitude. Conditions at Emirates Airline Park look agreeably benign, so expect a few tries both ways -- despite the fact that the stakes are so high with neither team wishing to play second fiddle as the finals series phase draws ever nearer. Remember that Warren Whiteley’s troops came within a very whisker of winning the last meeting in Dunedin after a stirring, trademark fightback.

    Key head-to-head: If the Lions are to bag this one, they will probably wish to deprive the free-running Highlanders – especially lethal from turnovers – of as much ball as possible. Getting solid traction in the scrums might help a great deal, and here the home-town anchorman at tighthead, JULIAN REDELINGHUYS, will obviously have to be an influential figure. It is also a fine opportunity for the two-cap Springbok substitute prop to remind of his ongoing international possibilities even if the South African pool at No 3 has grown encouragingly. Up against him on the Otago team’s loosehead side of the scrum is no-nonsense Maori All Black KANE HAMES, who has mostly kept his nose clean since a five-week ban at the beginning of the season for striking the Crusaders’ Dominic Bird.  

    Last result between sides: May 10, 2014: Highlanders 23 Lions 22 (Dunedin)

    Rob Houwing’s prediction: Lions by two points

    SA GAME 3

    HURRICANES v SHARKS, Wellington

    When: Saturday, 09:35 (SA time)

    Referee: Chris Pollock (NZ)

    TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD

    SuperSport commentators: NZ panel

    Weather outlook: Clear, cool, moderate wind

    Background: If there’s one source of hope for the labouring Sharks -- rocked by a 48-15 hammering in Dunedin to open their overseas account very much in the “red” -- it is that the high-flying ‘Canes will be without some influential figures behind the scrum like Julian Savea, TJ Perenara and Beuden Barrett. That said, there’s still plenty of potential sting from the likes of Conrad Smith, Cory Jane and Nehe Milner-Skudder ... and the Sharks rue the absence of some staple string-pullers of their own. Their best hope is probably a really rousing forward effort, aided by the fact that they reunite their entire Bok front row for this one. The traditionally up-tempo Hurricanes are unlikely to want to be dragged into an unrelenting slug-fest in the engine room, and will try to shift around a bulky-looking Sharks eight (even minus the Bone Collector) to tire them out. The game could get bleak for Marco Wentzel and company if the hosts get a couple of early tries ... but with a bit of luck they will be resilient for much, much longer here. Don’t they owe their supporters that much?

    Key head-to-head: The Sharks gratefully welcome back FRANS STEYN from his suspension, and the versatile customer has immediately been pencilled in at No 12 by Gary Gold. He will be expected to somehow freshen and ignite – despite his possible mild rustiness? – a ponderous back division, although his task is not helped by the embattled tourists fielding a decidedly second-string halfback combo in Lionel Cronje and Stefan Ungerer; he may just shift nearer the action as the game develops. Steyn initially, at least, polices a certain MA’A NONU at inside centre, so the collisions may well be heard all the way back to Umhlanga ...  

    Last result between sides: February 22, 2014: Sharks 27 Hurricanes 9 (Durban)

    Rob Houwing’s prediction: Hurricanes by seven points

    *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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