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    Sharks hungry for revenge

    2012-05-24 10:58
    Cape Town - Rob Houwing, in his South African Super Rugby Week 14 preview, tips the Sharks to finally put one over the Stormers in the big derby.



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

    Long-range weather forecast:
    Cloudy, mild, gentle breeze.

    Are the Stormers, with impressive young forward troopers like Siya Kolisi, Eben Etzebeth and Steven Kitshoff getting more game-time thus far than they probably imagined in maiden full Super Rugby campaigns, going slightly off the boil mentally and physically, despite ongoing winning ways? This match will be an immense test of that theory. Here we have a Sharks time revelling in a strong second wind after appearing virtually also-rans a few weeks back, and probably very keen to play a direct yet fluid brand of rugby that can crack their visitors’ renowned composure and discipline. If the Sharks cross the chalk reasonably early on, it may force the Stormers out of their soak-it-up comfort zone. If so, the strength of their attack-orientated “Plan B” will come under a rare microscope ... 

    Key head-to-head:
    The retention of FREDDIE MICHALAK at flyhalf, with all his X-factor (and sometimes Y and Z ...) suggests quite strongly to me that the Sharks are going to have a concerted crack at unlocking the Stormers’ wall of steel. It doesn’t mean they will run the ball willy-nilly, but that may be part of the strategy allied to ball-carrying muscularity by various big units in their pack. Michalak’s moves can be hard to predict – probably even by team-mates – but in the channel opposite the Frenchman, PETER GRANT will presumably stick more rigidly to his known, core strengths in the Stormers’ quest to gently throttle the life out of their opponents.

    Recent history:
    The Sharks lost the gruelling first-round encounter at Newlands by the narrowest of margins (15-12), courtesy of Grant’s late, high-pressure penalty which tilted the scales. Even then, the Sharks may well have made a mental note that they’re good enough to prevail back at the “Tank”, and the result will serve as a strong motivator. Mind you, the Cape side has bragging rights from both conference meetings in 2011, including a meritorious 16-6 outcome at Mr Price Kings Park.  

    Rob Houwing’s prediction:
    In current high-scoring form, I believe the Sharks will do just enough to outfox the sublime Stormers defence on the day. (Tell you what, though, if the visitors do clinch this fixture, at this particular juncture in their campaign, it will go a very long way to silencing critics of their title pedigree.) Cautiously, Sharks by four points.

    SA GAME 2

    CHIEFS v BULLS, Hamilton

    When: Friday, 09:35 SA time
    Referee: Mark Lawrence (SA)
    TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD

    Long-range weather forecast:
    Partly cloudy, cool, gentle breeze.

    The Bulls’ overseas leg remains suitably on course for a decent harvest of points: they sport a more than respectable 10 from a possible 15 after three matches, despite last week’s loss with a bonus point to the Highlanders. It will be “very good” rather than “average”, of course, if they bounce back to beat the Chiefs in their toughest fixture – and one which could be mightily influential in the race to top the overall log. In the Chiefs’ favour, assuming they haven’t lost their sharpness over the fortnight, is their coming off a bye into this crunch showdown. If the Bulls pack helps create consistently better field position than achieved in Dunedin, a certain Morne Steyn will come strongly into the picture as a points factor.  

    Key head-to-head:
    Although certain one-on-ones closer to the engine room may more critical, I am looking especially forward to seeing how BJORN BASSON, that absolute master of aerial catching and no slouch as a try-poacher too, fares in his duel with Chiefs right wing LELIA MASAGA. Not nicknamed “The Flash” for nothing, he is one of the most elusive customers in Super Rugby, and Basson can advance his Bok credentials in a big way, as a real challenger to Bryan Habana for No 11, if he achieves superiority over the All Black at Waikato Stadium.

    Recent history:
    The Bulls have a formidable recent record against these opponents, including a clear-cut 43-27 victory in last year’s high-tempo Loftus meeting and just as impressive 33-19 triumph in the last away encounter a year earlier. Can they go five on the trot against the Mooloo Men?

    Rob Houwing’s prediction:
    I’d be surprised if the Bulls capitulate in their final tour fixture, but reluctantly see the Waikato outfit being a shade too strong at home: Chiefs by three.

    SA GAME 3

    CHEETAHS v WARATAHS, Bloemfontein

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

    Long-range weather forecast:
    Sunny, mild, gentle breeze.

    There’s got to be a fair chance we’ll see the sort of game where the sides share 60 points or thereabouts. Both teams are completely out of the running for playoffs spots so a grinding, cagey kind of contest seems highly unlikely. Under the circumstances, a loose and unstructured game would suit the Cheetahs’ quest to “lung-bust” the Waratahs with a running game on the Highveld. But picking a winner where one team comes off four straight losses (the visitors) and the other three in their last four games, can’t be done with too much confidence and the men from Sydney are just as capable of a charm offensive. The 12th-placed Free Staters have the incentive of trying to leapfrog the ‘Tahs, who lie one spot and one point ahead of them.

    Key head-to-head:
    With the Waratahs’ scrum always a key component of their battle-plan, Wallaby loosehead BENN ROBINSON is a key instrument with his ability to prevent the rival tighthead getting a right shoulder. Up against him is the soon Euro-bound WP NEL, probably keen to make a point to Heyneke Meyer after being overlooked for the latest 42-man Springbok training party.

    Recent history:
    Last season, the Cheetahs pulled off that stunning, drought-breaking 23-3 victory over the shell-shocked ‘Tahs in their own backyard. It was their first win on Australasian soil and of course they have only grown in confidence as travellers this season. A year earlier, though, it was an easy 40-17 to the NSW side, also at home, while in 2009 the Aussies won 18-10 in Bloemfontein. 

    Rob Houwing’s prediction:
    Dangerous when there’s little at stake, Cheetahs to toss the pill around with some abandon and win it by eight.

    SA GAME 4

    FORCE v LIONS, Perth

    When: Saturday, 13:40 SA time
    Referee: Garratt Williamson (NZ)
    TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD

    Long-range weather forecast:
    Partly cloudy, mild, windless.

    Have you, like me, almost given up on the prospect of the Lions clicking defiantly into gear and earning a couple of wins to prove a point to SARU? Instead you sense that some element of resignation – it is at least partly understandable – has engulfed the camp. This is their last tour match after going winless in the other three, although the Force certainly appear likeliest candidates for an upset as they are vulnerable themselves. Losing 32-31 at home to the Rebels last weekend in a ding-dong affair will have done little for confidence in the Perth-based ranks, but if the Force’s interim management can drum some backlash fury into David Pocock and company as a result, the Lions could be ripe for the plucking yet again! 

    Key head-to-head:
    The Force’s captain DAVID POCOCK knows Lions coach John Mitchell pretty well from his time as a youngster in the camp while the New Zealander had the reins in Perth. He will also know what to expect, to a good degree, from his main poaching opponent in this basement clash ... DERICK MINNIE, who hasn’t made the large Bok squad named this week but is known to be respected by Heyneke Meyer and hasn’t benefited in recent weeks from the abject losing culture around his franchise. If the Lions are to cause a wee upset, Minnie will need to be near the forefront.

    Recent history:
    Last year the Lions were eclipsed 27-15 by the Force even at Coca-Cola Park, so ought to be under no illusions about their tour-ending task here. In 2010 the Western Australians also conquered Jo’burg, winning 33-12. The last Perth encounter? Even more gory for the Lions as they were smashed 55-14 three years ago ...

    Rob Houwing’s prediction:
    There’s too little evidence to suggest the Lions will suddenly roar - sorry, Force by 14.

    *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing
    Read More On:  sharks stormers super 15 durban rugby

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