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    It’s Bizzie v Strauss in derby

    2012-05-18 08:22
    Cape Town - Rob Houwing, in his South African Super Rugby Week 13 preview, tips the Sharks to conquer ‘Bloem’ ... perhaps even comfortably.

    GALLERY: Key match-ups in the Cheetahs v Sharks clash


    CHEETAHS v SHARKS, Bloemfontein

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

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

    This match takes place at a time when the Sharks seem (er, famous last words?) to be finally getting onto some sort of roll. Thrashing the Force by a strong margin must have done much to restore self-belief, however limited the Western Australians may be, and I just feel that the Sharks are ripe to extend their head of steam in the Free State - admittedly not always their happiest hunting ground. The Cheetahs cannot be taken lightly at home, of course, but are largely also-rans and have been suffering at flyhalf through Johan Goosen’s injury and Sias Ebersohn then getting the yips. The big key for them could be whether they recapture the running zest demonstrated at times a little earlier in the campaign ... 

    Key head-to-head:
    There can be little doubt which match-up stands out mostly dazzlingly: the expected, titanic duel at hooker between Cheetahs captain ADRIAAN STRAUSS and Sharks and Springbok rival BISMARCK DU PLESSIS – their first encounter of the season and a timely one in terms of ticking Bok boxes. There is talk that Heyneke Meyer has been impressed both by Strauss’s performance level and leadership of late, whilst ever-combative Du Plessis, still probably the favourite to wear No 2 against England, has a chance to confirm his right to the berth in the fading slipstream of John Smit ... especially if he can manufacture in this derby some of his unique, wrestle-it-from-enemy-arms turnovers. The front rows, broadly, ought to offer an intriguing tussle here. 

    Recent history:
    The Sharks have come a cropper three times to the Cheetahs since the Free Staters became a solo entity from the former Cats in 2006, with four wins to their own credit. So it shows a pattern of extreme competitiveness between the two. However, the men from Durban did win both conference matches last season – 24-9 on the competition’s opening weekend at home and then a considerably tighter 23-18 in the return meeting in Highveld conditions.

    Rob Houwing’s prediction:
    Sharks to retain momentum by muscling their way to a win by around nine points.

    SA GAME 2


    When: Saturday, 07:30 SA time
    Referee: Ian Smith (Aus)
    TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD

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

    The Bulls admirably continue to defy the doubters, who felt their regroup initiative in 2012 would mean not seeing them up among the front-runners. Instead they ride top of the standings ... and at the halfway point of their four-match overseas leg sport a two-from-two record. They will know as they crossed the Tasman to New Zealand that the going now gets much tougher, including this one in oft-frigid Dunedin against a Highlanders team under pressure to get back to winning ways after slipping to mid-table courtesy of last week’s home loss to the Hurricanes and another before that in Durban. If I am not massively confident about the Bulls’ chances of winning, it is probably only because some imperfections were evident in both Aussie wins, over the Rebels and Waratahs ... but I’ve no doubt 100-capper and points machine Morne Steyn has some contrary plans. 

    Key head-to-head:
    Although the Highlanders team had not yet been named at the time of writing, versatile BEN SMITH seemed likely to continue at fullback, where he has shone routinely this season in an all-round capacity. But I am also liking the 2012 lustre of the Bulls’ ZANE KIRCHNER, who sometimes looked stale and predictable last season but has produced bursts of magical hand and foot skills in the latest campaign – part of the reason, probably, why his team is having no problem scoring tries (3.6 per game).

    Recent history:
    These opponents have tended to trouble the Bulls more than most NZ sides, and last year they snapped a lengthy winning streak at home by the Loftus-based side by even raiding that venue for a praiseworthy, upset 35-28 result in their favour. Adam Thomson crossed the whitewash as early as the sixth minute to rock the Bulls, and they never really got their lustre back after that.

    Rob Houwing’s prediction:
    For no other reason, really, than the more decent NZ teams being notoriously hard to beat at home, I tip the Highlanders to snatch it by six points ... enough for a losing “BP” by the tourists.

    SA GAME 3


    When: Saturday, 19:10
    Referee: Craig Joubert (SA)
    TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD

    Long-range weather forecast:
    Cool, light breeze, chance of showers.

    The Stormers keep winning, which is obviously a fine habit in itself and they are not shy to remind us of that, but this game comes with them under some pressure to prove they can regularly threaten  the enemy try-line rather than just defend their own so staunchly. Unfortunately the elements (rain is a likelihood) plus the dewy night-time kickoff do suggest that a four-try bonus point either way is unlikely. So maybe just “keep winning doggedly” will be the big Stormers rallying cry once more. In fairness, that would be a satisfying outcome against a ‘Tahs team facing a now-or-never scenario in the playoffs hunt and still featuring some dangerous individuals. Allister Coetzee has rightly pointed to their set-piece competence, which is useful if it’s a grim Cape evening, isn’t it?

    Key head-to-head:
    Is it just me, or is scrumhalf DEWALDT DUVENAGE overdue for showing a bit of unpredictability or “expression”, if you like, at scrumhalf for the Stormers? After all, the man in his berth is inevitably going to come under the microscope to some extent if the attackers outside him aren’t scoring many tries. The Waratahs have shuffled their No 9 cards again - Sarel Pretorius is back on the bench with nuggety BRENDAN McKIBBIN preferred. He is probably viewed as the right horse for a possibly heavy course.  

    Recent history:
    Last season, these teams avoided each other but, if it’s a fillip for the Stormers as they contemplate this task, they saw off the Waratahs consummately in two Newlands meetings in 2010: 27-5 in round-robin play and then 25-6 in a semi-final. But I also clearly remember a filthy, rain-lashed night in 2008 at the venue, where the teams fought out a tense 13-13 draw. Is a repeat in store?

    Rob Houwing’s prediction:
    It will be a surprise if this game is postcard-pretty, and I reckon the Stormers will grind out a “basic” victory again, by some five points.

    SA GAME 4

    REDS v LIONS, Brisbane

    When: Saturday, 11:40 SA time
    Referee: Keith Brown (NZ)
    TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD

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

    As relegation talk swirls with increasing lustre, the Lions find themselves haplessly stranded alone at the bottom -- after being thumped even by the previously woeful Blues last weekend! Part of me wants to believe they will suddenly discover some “gees” and earn a sensational tour win or two, a la last year, but it doesn’t seem in the pipeline, does it? On top of that, they encounter here a dangerously rallying Reds side, just sensing the possibility of defending their title and chuffed by beating the Chiefs last weekend with some daylight to spare. Perhaps the best favour the Lions can do for various teams around the Reds on the log is try to somehow deprive them of a five-point haul?

    Key head-to-head:
    With team incentives not exactly springing to mind in any great number for the Lions, at least their baby-faced flyhalf ELTON JANTJIES has the chance to oppose one of the very best in the rival channel again ... a certain QUADE COOPER. The latter finally returns to the mix after several months of injury-enforced inactivity and the diminutive South African will have an edge in match-sharpness. We know Cooper can get rattled going backwards; c’mon Lions pack!

    Recent history:
    Last year these foes met in Johannesburg, with the Reds edging the game 30-25, the Queenslanders putting it all together after a poor start. It was more emphatic a year earlier - 41-26 also at Ellis Park. At least in the last Brisbane fixture, the Lions can claim victory (31-20 in 2009, when Henno Mentz recorded a hat-trick of tries).

    Rob Houwing’s prediction:
    I’m tipping the Reds to get home by 15 points ... and sadly there will be others, I’m sure, who reckon that’s generous toward the Lions.

    *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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