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    Sharks' physicality to win it!

    2013-02-28 10:26
    Durban - Sport24 chief writer Rob Houwing, in his regular Thursday South African Super Rugby preview, suggests wins for the Sharks and Bulls this weekend, with the Stormers and Cheetahs left ruing second successive defeats.

    SPORT24 PICK OF THE CROP

    SHARKS v STORMERS, Durban


    When: Saturday, 19:10
    Referee: Jonathan Kaplan (SA)
    TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD
    Commentators: Andy Capostagno, Bob Skinstad (Eng), Hennie Koortzen, Gary Boshoff (Afrik), Kaunda Ntunja, Makhaya Jack (Xho)
    Long-range weather outlook: Partly cloudy, warm, light breeze

    Background: The Sharks probably packed the best collective punch of any South African side in the first round of local conference action. They appear to have all bases covered and, even against a very spirited Cheetahs side in Bloemfontein, ruled the roost in the engine room and produced plenty of high-calibre three-quarter play. Throw in the fact that Pat Lambie began the campaign with aplomb at No 10, and they have reason to fancy they’ll lower the Stormers’ colours again. As for the visitors, they struggled to integrate their various Lions acquisitions against the Bulls ... and yes, the continued absence of Messrs Burger and Etzebeth could be costly at Kings Park. Never write this bunch off, mind you.

    Key head-to-head: Still a couple of weeks shy of his 22nd birthday, former Paarl Boys’ High favourite FRANS MALHERBE has the unenviable Stormers chore this Saturday (preferred to last week’s slightly disappointing Pat Cilliers) of trying to tame the Beast. Bok loosehead prop TENDAI MTAWARIRA was all fire and brimstone at scrum-time against the Cheetahs, particularly when Coenie Oosthuizen suddenly appeared in front of him in the second half. Now Stormers No 3 Malherbe must somehow try to find a firm right shoulder ... big tick for his own possible Test future if he manages it!

    Recent history: March 3, 2012: Stormers 15 Sharks 12; May 26, 2012: Sharks 25 Stormers 20; July 28, 2012 (semi-final): Stormers 19 Sharks 26

    Rob Houwing’s prediction: Look, I do believe that the Stormers will be desperate to quickly remind the world that they aren’t nearly as rag-tag as they looked at Loftus last Friday. Grim motivation will not be in short supply. But I also suggest that the Sharks are slightly more cohesive and offer both greater skill and grunt at this early-season juncture. So Sharks to squeeze out a win by two points?

    SA GAME 2

    BULLS v FORCE, Pretoria


    When: Saturday, 17:05
    Referee: Jason Jaftha (SA)
    TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD
    Commentators: Hugh Bladen, Joel Stransky (Eng), John van Rensburg, Toks van der Linde (Afrik)
    Long-range weather outlook: Partly cloudy, warm, light breeze

    Background: The man from Western Australia must have been pretty chuffed to see many anti-Kings pundits in South Africa tipping them to put away the rookie PE outfit by 25 points last week! Only, er, things didn’t quite turn out that way, did they? So with the Force instead playing second fiddle by 12 points, their confidence can’t exactly be sky-high as they prepare to tackle the Bulls in their unwelcoming Highveld fortress. You have to believe Pierre Spies and company will only botch this one if a crazy dose of complacency visits their camp. They’ll go on overseas tour with a two from two record ... surely?

    Key head-to-head: The Force are a little short of household names since the respective departures of people like Nathan Sharpe and David Pocock. But that roving right wing with the trademark generous locks NICK CUMMINS is an increasingly decent Test presence for the Wallabies. Up against him, in the Bulls’ No 11 shirt, will be the panther-like, prolific try-scoring BJORN BASSON. You just feel that this match will have more fluidity and space on offer than in the dour Bulls-Stormers derby, so the Loftus faithful may see these two try to outwit or outpace each other several times. 

    Recent history: Teams did not meet last season.

    Rob Houwing’s prediction: The Bulls will know, even as they delightedly banked victory over the Stormers, that they didn’t produce much in the way of champagne rugby ... neither did their southern opponents, of course. They will hope their tried-and-trusted formula - subdue, then penetrate - comes into play for a full house of five log points from this one. Bulls by 19.

    SA GAME 3

    CHIEFS v CHEETAHS, Hamilton


    When: Saturday, 08:35
    Referee: Mike Fraser (NZ)
    TV: SS1, CSN, SHD
    Commentators: (New Zealand panel)
    Long-range weather outlook: Cloudy, mild, moderate wind

    Background: Wow, what a start by the Waikato crew in defence of their title. I was lukewarm in pre-season about their retention prospects, but last weekend’s rousing, full-house win against the Highlanders in their own habitat proved something of an eye-opener! The Cheetahs had some brilliant moments even in defeat to the Sharks last weekend, and in some ways touring Australasia so early may have advantages for them ... warm and hopefully dry conditions would be very much to their liking, given their traditional ball-in-hand enterprise. But it may also, alas, be a tad too early for them to really hit their straps, outside of South Africa. Starting the adventure on the back of a loss hardly helps.  

    Key head-to-head: With Juan Smith sadly no longer around and Heinrich Brussow still bedevilled by niggles, the trademark burly, blond figure of ADRIAAN STRAUSS stands out like a beacon for the Cheetahs, and not just because he leads the troops. The Bok hooker, who so seldom has an anonymous game, comes up against another worthy opponent in the No 2 stakes on Saturday, as the Chiefs have restored that combative Maori HIKA ELLIOT to the middle of the front row, after he missed the opener in Dunedin through a calf problem; rookie Rhys Marshall drops to the bench.

    Recent history: April 14, 2012: Cheetahs 33 Chiefs 39

    Rob Houwing’s prediction: The Chiefs camp have been talking up the Cheetahs for playing “a brand of rugby like ours”, which is at least partly true, but it is extremely hard to see the Free Staters toppling the champs in their tour opener, I’m afraid ... Chiefs by 16.

    *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

    HAVE YOUR SAY: Do you agree with Sport24 chief writer Rob Houwing? Will the Sharks beat the Stormers on Saturday? What about the Chiefs v Cheetahs and Bulls v Force matches? Send your thoughts to Sport24.

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