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    Sharks aim for ‘full house’

    2014-04-17 14:13
    Cape Town - Sport24 chief writer Rob Houwing, in his regular South African-geared Super Rugby preview, tips the front-running Sharks to cement their position with a bonus-point victory over the fast but loose Cheetahs.

    He sees a desperate Stormers team exploiting home advantage at Newlands to quite narrowly subdue the Lions, but again suggests heartbreak for the Bulls against the Waratahs as a tour win stays elusive for them.

    SPORT24 PICK OF THE CROP

    SHARKS v CHEETAHS, Durban

    When: Saturday, 15:00

    Referee: Jaco Peyper (SA)

    TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD

    SuperSport commentators: Hugh Bladen and Joel Stranksy (Eng), Christo Olivier and Werner Swanepoel (Afrik), Kaunda Ntunja and Makhaya Jack (Xho)

    Weather outlook: Sunny, warm, gentle breeze

    Background: Jake White is sure to drum into his charges the fact that the Cheetahs, for all their defensive woes and currently lowly status, are certainly not incapable of an upset. He will also remind that the next two weeks – this game plus the Highlanders, also at Kings Park - simply must not produce “banana peels” for his table-toppers. If either does, it could greatly damage the Sharks’ quest for a home semi-final and possibly also the showpiece, because their daunting overseas tour begins immediately afterwards. So I would be surprised if Bismarck du Plessis and company show any special slackness against these foes from the interior: they should be able to chip away effectively enough to earn four tries, too. Inexperienced Tim Swiel starting at No 10 for the Sharks will interest the visitors in terms of their upset plans, as will the presence of journeyman speed merchant Tonderai Chavhanga on the wing ... eish, can those iffy old “hammies” of Tondi’s hold up?

    Key head-to-head: Fit-again terrier Heinrich Brussow’s open-side battle with the in-form Marcell Coetzee should provide engrossing viewing up front, but with good, dry conditions expected I’m going to suggest the clash between rival wings JP PIETERSEN, on the Sharks left, and Cheetahs right hand-side flier CORNAL HENDRICKS will provide plenty of oohs and aahs. The SA Sevens representative quite obviously benefits at times from the Cheetahs’ rather helter-skelter style, but his defensive mettle will be tested here by Pietersen – the established Springbok has been playing well without totally setting the house on fire for galloping surges. Might that event occur here?

    Last result between teams: April 20 2013: Sharks 6 Cheetahs 12 (Durban)

    Rob Houwing’s prediction: Sharks by 11 points

    SA GAME 2

    STORMERS v LIONS, Cape Town

    When: Saturday, 17:05

    Referee: Stuart Berry (SA)

    TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD

    SuperSport commentators: Matthew Pearce and Bob Skinstad (Eng), Hennie Koortzen and Kobus Wiese (Afrik), Alfred Mzizi and Kaya Malotana (Xho)

    Weather outlook: Sunny, mild, moderate wind

    Background: We should discover pretty smartly whether the under-the-cosh Stormers’ bye weekend has suitably energised them – there is plenty of confident talk from captain and coach about fresh beginnings and the like. I am not yet convinced, on paper, that the Capetonians have enough firepower at present to be able to confidently say they’ll knock over these opponents with a bit to spare. Never forget that they’ll be endeavouring to reverse a 24-point stuffing in the first-round meeting up north! Peter Grant at fullback – not the fastest whippet from the kennel – is a curious pick, so the Stormers finding some try-scoring mojo seems less than guaranteed. The longer the Lions can stay in this contest, the more healthily they will sniff a welcome victory, after successive home losses. But their loyal support base should roar the hosts over the line, albeit not by terribly much. In set-piece terms, the clash of two young sets of props here could be pivotal as Messrs Kitshoff and Malherbe get to grips with the Lions’ Van der Merwe and Redelinghuys.

    Key head-to-head: What a full-blooded competitor FRANCO MOSTERT has been for the Lions this season: his yeoman work in the engine room has typified the unsung team’s unyielding spirit. The Welkom-born lock isn’t the bulkiest unit ever to grace a second row, but that (not to mention a serious car accident) hasn’t impeded him. At Newlands he will come up against a former Lions customer at No 5 – the versatile and occasionally short-fused MICHAEL RHODES, who has had to operate in slightly unfamiliar terrain because of the Stormers’ second-row injury crisis. Rhodes is better suited to either No 7 or No 4, but is clearly the uncomplaining type ...

    Last result between teams: February 22 2014: Lions 34 Stormers 10 (Johannesburg)

    Rob Houwing’s prediction: Stormers by six points

    SA GAME 3

    WARATAHS v BULLS, Sydney

    When: Saturday, 11:40 SA time

    Referee: Rohan Hoffmann (Aus)

    TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD

    SuperSport commentators: Australian panel

    Weather outlook: Clear, cool, gentle breeze

    Background: The Bulls looked so promising initially for a thumping win over the limited Highlanders last time out ... and then they infuriatingly blew it. I fear that this fixture is a tougher one, especially given that the Waratahs will fight fire with physical fire in the forward exchanges, so it seems too risky to tip a much-needed triumph by the touring side. Can they do it, though? Yes, as long as they don’t suddenly “go to sleep” as Flip van der Merwe so rightly described events in Dunedin. But it will require murderous all-round commitment, and bear in mind that we are reaching that dangerous phase of the Australasian trek where travel fatigue can set in. The hosts are also smarting about their derby loss to the surprise-packet Force in Perth, so will hardly lack incentive themselves. I’ll repeat a view expressed earlier this week: beating one of the Waratahs or Force on what remains of the trip is imperative, to my mind, if the Bulls are to stay realistically in the playoffs hunt. 

    Key head-to-head: After having some reservations during his Currie Cup season as a raw element of the Bulls’ mix last year, I am much more enthusiastic now about the potential of that behemoth, but simultaneously athletic young blindside flanker JACQUES DU PLESSIS, who has put an early stamp on Super Rugby. It is a meeting of two brawny and pretty direct individuals on Saturday as his Waratahs equivalent in the berth will be a former Bulls favourite in JACQUES POTGIETER. The last-named player has ping-ponged between lock and flank this season, but always been an imposing and popular presence in the Sydney outfit’s line-up. He is sure to have passed on some intelligence about Bulls methods. As far as the “fetcher” match-up is concerned, I am more worried from a SA perspective about out-of-position Jono Ross’s ability to match ‘Tahs eternal livewire Michael Hooper.

    Last result between teams: April 27 2013: Bulls 30 Waratahs 19 (Pretoria)

    Rob Houwing’s prediction: Waratahs by seven points

    *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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