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    SA v NZ: First real 2013 test

    2013-03-08 09:39
    Cape Town - Sport24 chief writer Rob Houwing, in his regular South African Super Rugby preview, believes it will be 2-1 to New Zealand teams after a potentially very educative weekend of three clashes with SA rivals.

    GALLERY: Super Rugby Round 4 match-ups


    STORMERS v CHIEFS, Cape Town

    When: Saturday, 17:05
    Referee: Jaco Peyper (SA)
    TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD
    Commentators: Matthew Pearce and Bob Skinstad (Eng); Hennie Koortzen and Kobus Wiese (Afrik)
    Long-range weather outlook: Sunny, mild, fresh breeze

    Background: There are enough, considerably less daunting fixtures in the second half of their campaign to suggest the Stormers could yet recover from a possible nought-from-three record (the case if they lose to the champions on Saturday) to squeeze into the playoffs. But winning the SA conference – ticket to a smoother KO-phase ride, at least on paper -- would be much less likely. So the heat is already on, and Jean de Villiers revealed with unusual bullishness that he has a “good feeling” about this clash. There is a worrying bluntness to the Stormers’ attacking game again this year – so far, anyway – although ironically a suffocating, conservative approach may actually serve them pretty well in the bid to topple the Chiefs. The visitors are averaging five tries a game already in 2013, so the Stormers’ much-vaunted defence will have to be in tip-top shape.     

    Key head-to-head: Stormers flyhalf ELTON JANTJIES has certainly been feeling the burden of uncomfortable scrutiny in his earliest starts for the Cape franchise, although few could doubt that he was considerably better in the grinding, uncompromising loss to the Sharks last weekend and his inspired cross-kick to a flying - but crucially butter-fingered! - Gio Aplon really should have yielded a try. Still, it doesn’t get any easier for Jantjies as he comes up against the slippery AARON CRUDEN at No 10 here. Both men have the relative freedom to just pull tactical strings, as first-choice goalkicking is coincidentally in the hands of their respective team-mates at fullback, Joe Pietersen and Gareth Anscombe, at present.

    Recent history: Teams did not meet last season. May 14 2011: Chiefs 30 Stormers 23

    Rob Houwing’s prediction: I make the prediction uncomfortably, because of the Chiefs’ more vibrant, multi-dimensional game right now, but do fancy the Stormers - basking in first exposure to Newlands this year and their opponents’ long-haul travel to get there - to just nick this one, by not more than three or four points.

    SA GAME 2

    KINGS v SHARKS, Port Elizabeth

    When: Saturday, 19:10
    Referee: Jason Jaftha (SA)
    TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD
    Commentators: Hugh Bladen and Robbie Kempson (Eng); Christo Olivier and Breyton Paulse (Afrik); Kaunda Ntunja and Makhaya Jack (Xho)
    Long-range weather outlook: Partly cloudy, mild, gentle breeze

    Background: The Sharks will quickly be aware of a “PE passion” phenomenon, long before they actually run onto the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium pitch. And for a while, that fervour ought to power fairly clear underdogs the Kings. Whether those batteries can last is quite another matter ... if they have their wits about them (there is no special reason to suspect they won’t?) the Sharks should romp to victory and probably also eye the four-try bonus point. They’ll know they’ve been in a scrap, however, especially with former Durban-based troops like Steven Sykes and Andries Strauss unlikely to be under-motivated.  

    Key head-to-head: The fierce ball-carries of JACQUES ENGELBRECHT played an unexpectedly large role in the Kings’ debut Super Rugby victory over the Force – and he wasn’t even a starter that day. Now the 106kg blond specimen they call “Vleis” begins at No 8 against the collectively heavyweight Sharks ... he will do well to eclipse his athletic opposite number RYAN KANKOWSKI, who no doubt wishes for greater freedom this weekend (behind a likely dominant tight five) to exhibit his running and linking skills after last week’s dour arm-wrestle with the Stormers.
    Recent history: Not applicable.

    Rob Houwing’s prediction: I wouldn’t go so far as to say a bubble will burst for the Kings; they may be more resilient than that for a fair chunk of this particular derby. But the Sharks’ superior class in most departments ought to ensure that the visitors leave with a comfortable enough win ... say by 18 points?

    SA GAME 3

    HIGHLANDERS v CHEETAHS, Invercargill

    When: Saturday, 08:35 SA time
    Referee: Nick Briant (NZ)
    TV: SS1, CSN, SHD
    Commentators: New Zealand panel
    Long-range weather outlook: Sunny, cool, light breeze

    Background: Taken to the cleaners in the second half by the Chiefs in Hamilton last weekend, after huffing and puffing fairly promisingly without great reward in the first, the portents don’t look wonderful for the Cheetahs to earn a first ever triumph over the Highlanders, in deep-south Invercargill. Mind you, they’ve run the Otago crew agonisingly close a few times over the years, and may take motivation here from last season’s heartbreak in Bloemfontein: now-departed Sias Ebersohn missed a 78th-minute penalty from bang in front at 33-33 and the Highlanders then cruelly stole the match a minute later when Chris Noakes succeeded from 45m! The harsh truth is that the defensively suspect Cheetahs may not be in the game in the dying stages this time ...  

    Key head-to-head: ROBERT EBERSOHN will surrender some 18kg in weight when, at inside centre, he runs into - he may prefer to think “around”! - a certain MA’A NONU as his direct opponent. The undoubtedly skilful, astute Cheetahs man is still more accustomed to No 13, so how resilient he can be against Nonu’s tree-trunk charges in a key defensive channel will be influential if the pride of the Free State are to somehow register an upset.

    Recent history: April 28, 2012: Cheetahs 33 Highlanders 36

    Rob Houwing’s prediction: Sorry Cheetahs, I can only see your Antipodean tour experiencing another stint of angst here, particularly with the Highlanders hungrily in search of a first win. Home side by 22 points.

    SA GAME 4

    BLUES v BULLS, Auckland

    When: Sunday, 05:05 SA time
    Referee: Garratt Williamson (NZ)
    TV: SS1, CSN, SHD
    Commentators: New Zealand panel
    Long-range weather outlook: Sunny, mild, light breeze

    Background: Well, was that a mini-peak the Blues hit last time out? Taking out the multi-champion Crusaders 34-15 was a major statement in favour of the Aucklanders rising out of their relative doldrums. The Bulls may take some heart from the possibility that their hosts will be riding a fatal wave of swollen-headedness when the earthy South Africans come to town. Either that, or the Blues will only build on that showing - which would be scary. For their part, Pierre Spies’s team have a duty to appease their fans for leaving it so late to beat off the moderate Western Force at Loftus, in a rather ugly, blunt-instrument performance after Morne Steyn’s promisingly twinkle-toed early try. They’ll have to play streets better to grab this one, and I’m just not sure that’s possible straight off the international flight ...  

    Key head-to-head: The Bulls’ first-choice specialist fetcher DEON STEGMANN is over a hamstring problem and back in the mix ... which is possibly just as well because he must try to be a prominent counter in this fixture to the threat of Blues’ LUKE BRAID. The latter took full advantage of Richie McCaw’s sabbatical to boss the breakdowns against the Crusaders last weekend, and the touring side simply cannot allow him such scope again.

    Recent history: March 10, 2012: Bulls 23 Blues 29

    Rob Houwing’s prediction: Much changed this week (which may not help?), the Bulls will do extremely well to kick off their Australasian tour with a win, even if a suspicion remains in my mind that Blues aren’t quite as good as their early results suggest. Hosts by eight.

    *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

    HAVE YOUR SAY: Do you agree with Sport24 Chief Writer Rob Houwing's predictions for this weekend's Super Rugby matches? Send your thoughts to Sport24.

    Stormers v Chiefs: Elton Jantjies v Aaron Cruden... (Gallo Images)
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