It’s JP v Digby in Brisbane

    2012-07-20 10:31
    JP Pietersen (Gallo Images)
    Cape Town - Rob Houwing, in his Super Rugby finals series qualifiers preview, believes only the Sharks, of the remaining SA teams, will join the Stormers in the semis


    REDS v SHARKS, Brisbane

    When: Saturday, 11:40
    Referee: Jonathan Kaplan (SA)
    TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD

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

    The Reds clearly feel Quade Cooper is so vital to their mojo that they tried (in vain) up to the last minute to overturn the sometimes stormy flyhalf’s suspension and have him in the ranks for this potential sizzler. How they cope with Ben Lucas in the slot instead might go a long way to influencing who progresses to the semis here. The Sharks, on paper, look capable of establishing forward dominance if they properly “arrive at the races” mentally and even without Messrs Lambie and Steyn, key men of their own, there is enough nous in their backline to provide a counter to the home team’s up-tempo attacking play.

    Key head-to-head:
    There are quite a few to potentially savour between two often crowd-pleasing teams, but I’m particularly keen to observe the battle between DIGBY IOANE, the livewire and muscular Reds left wing, and his powerful, long-striding rival on the Sharks’ right, JP PIETERSEN. These men are game-breakers in the best sense, so if the game is as tight as anticipated, one of them producing a moment of magic across the advantage line could swing it either way. They are also highly likely to encounter each other shortly in the new-look Rugby Championship, so call this an opening salvo in their private battle, if you like ... 

    Recent history:
    In the ordinary-season portion of the 2012 campaign, the Sharks entertained the Reds in Durban and recovered from a significant 0-17 deficit to prevail 27-22. Mind you, the Reds were particularly at sixes and sevens through injury then. The last Brisbane meeting was in 2009, when the home team won 25-13, and they have won five of six clashes in total whenever these foes have met on the Aussie east coast.

    Rob Houwing’s prediction:
    The Sharks can be their own worst enemies at times, with a penchant for going quite violently off the boil just when you think they’ve got a handsome head of steam: that applies both from match to match and for portions of specific ones! But they’re on a pretty good roll right now and confidence must be high. Man for man, I suggest they’re just a morsel better at present ... Sharks by two points, despite the travel disadvantage.

    GAME 2

    CRUSADERS v BULLS, Christchurch

    When: Saturday, 09:35
    Referee: Jaco Peyper (SA)
    TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD

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

    Although the Crusaders have also hiccupped more often than most pundits would have anticipated this season, the Bulls seem to have been on a bit of a downward curve in the last few weeks – after once looking like being finals series qualifiers with a rather higher ranking. Even as they restored an overdue winning habit against neighbours the Lions last weekend, the first half exposed once more some defensive frailties -- although they have remained well capable of crossing the whitewash themselves. The ‘Saders are one of the wilier sides in Super Rugby, and will probably feel that they offer up a much broader range of dimensions to get over this hurdle. 

    Key head-to-head:
    Kieran Read being ruled out by injury might make the battle at No 8 look less appealing on any other day ... but not this one, with rival captains and experienced internationals RICHIE McCAW and PIERRE SPIES now in direct opposition. The former is reasonably accustomed to the slot when required, meaning the Crusaders can afford the luxury of fielding Matt Todd as a second fetcher. As for Spies, he could do with a consistently energetic outing in his specialist position as he seems to have slipped into a bit of comfort zone again after a good Test series against England. The underdog Bulls need their skipper to lead from the front here!

    Recent history:
    The Bulls pipped the ‘Saders 32-30 at Loftus earlier in the season, but there were heart-stopping moments at the end as they seemed to run out of puff and the visitors charged back from a 32-16 deficit. In recent times, the Bulls boast a strong knockout-phase record against these opponents. But that’s only because Pretoria has previously hosted so many of the clashes ...

    Rob Houwing’s prediction:
    Much as so many of us would like to, you can’t just brazenly back the Bulls to win when their track record has been so abject in Christchurch for 16 years! (Mind you, that applies to just about every other South African team too.) I have to back the ‘Saders to get home comfortably ... hopefully by not many more than eight or 10 points

    *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing
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