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    Sharks, Bulls will rumble on

    2014-05-29 14:13
    Cape Town – Sport24 chief writer Rob Houwing, in his regular South African-geared Super Rugby preview, sees the Sharks earning a third victory in as many matches this month, against the Stormers, to stay right on course for that coveted table-topping status after ordinary season.

    He also thinks the Bulls will keep alive their touch-and-go playoffs quest by fairly comfortably claiming the Highveld derby against the Lions at Ellis Park.

    His tips for non-SA games this weekend: Crusaders to beat Force by 14 points, Reds to beat Hurricanes by four, Chiefs to beat Waratahs by two, Hurricanes to beat Blues by seven, Brumbies to beat Rebels by 12.



    When: Saturday, 19:10
    Referee: Jaco Peyper (SA)
    TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD
    SuperSport commentators: Matthew Pearce and Bob Skinstad (Eng), John van Rensburg and Toks van der Linde (Afrik), Lonwabo Mtimka and Mzwandile Stick (Xho)

    Weather outlook: Clear, warm, moderate wind

    Background: It says much about the Stormers’ genuine determination, albeit for so long out of the playoffs running already, to reinvent themselves that they’ve been gradually doing so without the aid of around half of their most senior personnel. Absenteeism is a big hallmark of their selection for this coastal grudge game, too, and although I believe they will still produce a good bit more than just nuisance value on the day, the obviously greater strength of the Sharks on paper will be a major role-player in determining the outcome. They will sport the luxury of a battery of stalwart Springboks; the Stormers are missing so many of theirs. Not only that, but Jake White’s charges seem to have got much of their vitality from earlier in the season back, as evidenced by a fine two-from-two record in New Zealand. Returning-travel fatigue is a bit of a danger, I suppose, and it is one reason the Capetonians may pilfer a bonus point for ending within seven on the ‘board, but it is also quite possible that the Sharks will canter to a much more clear-cut triumph if they establish a grip quickly. The Sharks’ brawnier tight five should have them on the front foot quite a lot ...

    Key head-to-head: The Sharks are very happy to have been able to reinstate dynamo MARCELL COETZEE to the open-side flank berth after his shoulder injury, which sets up nicely a great scavenging scrap with the Stormers’ fast-emerging NIZAAM CARR. Mind you, rival hookers Bismarck du Plessis and Deon Fourie will wish to have a say on that front, too. The big match-day question will probably be: can Coetzee produce his customary high energy levels for a full 80, considering his absence ever since suffering the mishap against the Rebels in Melbourne several weeks ago? Carr, who has made the switch from his more familiar No 8 with some aplomb in recent months, may have a tad more game sharpness (plus he slightly eclipsed the brilliant Heinrich Brussow in a feisty battle last weekend), although Coetzee is also wanting to make up ground desperately fast to push for a starting Bok spot once more. He has to leapfrog Francois Louw to achieve that, so special performances need to come thick and fast from him ...

    Last result between sides: April 13, 2013: Stormers 22 Sharks 15 (Cape Town)

    Rob Houwing’s prediction: Sharks by seven points

    SA GAME 2

    LIONS v BULLS, Johannesburg

    When: Saturday, 17:05
    Referee: Craig Joubert (SA)
    TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD
    SuperSport commentators: Joel Stransky and Owen Nkumane (Eng), Gerrie Scheepers and Kobus Wiese (Afrik), Kaunda Ntunja and Makhaya Jack (Xho)
    Weather outlook: Clear, mild, light breeze

    Background: Could it just be that the Bulls look one of the fresher sides at a convenient time in the Super Rugby season because Frans Ludeke pays more heed than many South African coaching counterparts to the need to rotate players? Especially in the stamina-sapping and bruise-inducing tight five, the Bulls supremo has a habit of shuffling around his resources, which not only keeps his squad in particularly healthy competition with each other but combats staleness more markedly. I thought the Bulls looked like the champion team of old in the way they gored the Brumbies last weekend, and it doesn’t bode too well for the Lions who are in relative free-fall at present. Frankly, I don’t see the slightly risky decision to rest Victor Matfield for the trip down the freeway backfiring on the Bulls, and Grant Hattingh (who moves from eight to five) is an excellent lineout man. Mind you, don’t completely write off the hosts: they may be in real danger of earning the conference – and overall? -- wooden spoon, but they have seldom been massively outplayed in 2014, which can’t be a bad sign looking into the future, and their Ellis Park record is pretty good this year.  

    Key head-to-head: One of the major reasons why the Bulls have hit a fairly hot streak of late – a hat-trick of wins – is the resurgent, welcome swagger in the scrumhalf play of FRANCOIS HOUGAARD. He loves playing a more rounded game than just thumping box-kicks all day, and the Loftus side’s multi-pronged approach in recent games has suited him down to the ground – he’s been full of gleeful self-expression again, rather than carrying that puzzled, almost despondent look when the Bulls were labouring and his own game was error-prone. It’s interesting that Lions coach Johan Ackermann continues, for the time being, to fancy ROSS CRONJE as his No 9 rather than early-season wonder Faf de Klerk, who stays benched. The blond former Michaelhouse and Sharks customer may have his hands pretty full policing Hougie ...

    Last result between sides: March 1, 2014: Bulls 27 Lions 17 (Pretoria)

    Rob Houwing’s prediction: Bulls by nine points

    *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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