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    Sharks to bag a full house

    2014-03-06 14:32
    Sport24 chief writer Rob Houwing
    Cape Town - Sport24 chief writer Rob Houwing, in his regular South African-geared Super Rugby preview, predicts victories for the Sharks and Bulls on home soil, but losses abroad for the Cheetahs and Stormers.

    SPORT24 PICK OF THE CROP

    SHARKS v LIONS, Durban

    When: Saturday, 19:10

    Referee: Jaco Peyper (SA)

    TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD

    SuperSport commentators: Hugh Bladen and Bob Skinstad (Eng), Gary Boshoff and Gerrie Scheepers (Afrik), Kaunda Ntunja and Makhaya Jack (Xho)  

    Weather outlook: Warm with possible light rain, gentle breeze

    Background: Refreshed by a bye and already in good shape conditioning-wise anyway, the Sharks should have no special fears about taking on the Lions in what, certainly on paper, is a classic “princes v paupers” affair. Packed with established internationals, Jake White’s charges should only choke in this fixture if they are complacent or the weather is freakishly monsoonish on the KZN coast – and they will have seen enough of the Lions’ courage and spirit thus far to be properly prepared for the derby. The visitors won’t mind the underdog status, of course, because it is a cross they will carry in many games this year. Despite that first defeat at Loftus last weekend, they played well enough at times to suggest they won’t be Kings Park pushovers – but a win with a bonus point will be the Sharks’ target, I’m sure, and they might get that.  

    Key head-to-head: Although the weather forecast is iffy, it would be nice if a firm surface and non-greasy ball greets the combatants for this all-SA affair and facilitates some crowd-pleasing rugby – we haven’t had much of it on our shores thus far, with rain often an impediment. If things do open up nicely, I’m looking forward to the scrap between two rangy, athletic No 8s, the Sharks’ in-form RYAN KANKOWSKI and Lions captain WARREN WHITELEY who also covers plenty of ground in a match.

    Recent history between teams: Not applicable last year (Lions absent from competition)

    Rob Houwing’s prediction: Sharks by 13 points

    SA GAME 2

    BULLS v BLUES, Pretoria

    When: Saturday, 17:05

    Referee: Andrew Lees (Aus)

    TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD

    SuperSport commentators: Matthew Pearce and Joel Stransky (Eng), John van Rensburg and Kobus Wiese (Afrik), Lonwabo Mtimka and Lungelo Payi (Xho)

    Weather outlook: Cool with rain, light breeze

    Background: The Bulls may have found it fairly difficult to plan properly for this one, not being sure what to expect of the New Zealanders. The Blues first lost by eight points to the Highlanders away, before a serious bounce-back to thump the Crusaders by 11 at home! In truth, the Aucklanders have been that sort of team for some years. Their first match on this mini-safari is likely to be contested on a very wet Loftus pitch, and that could just play into the hands of the Bulls, who will not want to get dragged into a fast, ball-in-hand sort of contest and prefer to build on their pack improvement of late and comfort with a tactical kicking game. Buoyed by that belated first win against the Lions, I believe the Bulls could squeeze out this one too, although it is not said with any special confidence.

    Key head-to-head: There’s an all-international duel at scrumhalf (and in a few other slots too) as the Bulls’ FRANCOIS HOUGAARD aims to build on his largely encouraging performance – barring that try-conceding charge-down – against the Lions. He just looked more sprightly, dynamic and elusive and hopefully won’t be limited to a tactical sort of game as he opposes that chunky, stalwart All Black PIRI WEEPU. The, er, stocky Blues customer and frequent NZ haka leader has been a Test player since 2004, and this is a good further test for the level of Hougaard’s resurgence ...     

    Recent history between teams: March 10, 2013: Blues 21 Bulls 28 (Auckland)

    Rob Houwing’s prediction: Bulls by five points

    SA GAME 3

    CRUSADERS v STORMERS, Christchurch

    When: Saturday, 08:35 (SA time)

    Referee: Rohan Hoffmann (Aus)

    TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD

    SuperSport commentators: New Zealand panel

    Weather outlook: Cloudy (chance of rain), cool, light breeze

    Background: There is this growing, really uneasy feeling in Cape Town – no, not just the figment of fertile media imagination – that the Stormers are far likelier to land up on the rocks this season than prosper, despite pre-season expectations of a moderately competitive campaign. For one thing, they have a mounting injury toll, with several usual suspects (Juan de Jongh, Rynhardt Elstadt ... ) involved. But the blunt nature of their performances against both the Lions and Hurricanes – even though the latter clash somehow produced victory – is just as much a concern to long-suffering supporters. Is it good or bad that they tackle the Crusaders in the SA graveyard of Christchurch with the hosts desperate for a first win? I lean toward the latter, particularly given that in the back of their minds, the Stormers may feel they have a better chance of winkling out a triumph or two once they’ve shifted to Australia. Crusaders and Chiefs in the space of six days ... not nice!  

    Key head-to-head: MATT TODD is a very loyal member of the Crusaders’ fold, given that the 25-year-old is a particularly decent open-side flank, yet has had his Super Rugby caps so often curtailed by the presence of a certain Richie McCaw as skipper and key player. But with the All Blacks legend injured, he will get another decent run in the side and aim to make the most of it. Up against him is a worthy foe in the Stormers’ versatile DEON FOURIE. I am not convinced dropping blindsider Siya Kolisi was the right move by Allister Coetzee for this clash, but at least Fourie’s pace and scavenging skills at No 6 remain in the mix; he does provide an extra attacking dimension, potentially, to a team not exactly renowned for that quality right now.

    Recent history between teams: March 30, 2013: Stormers 14 Crusaders 19 (Cape Town)

    Rob Houwing’s prediction: Crusaders by 11 points

    SA GAME 4

    REDS v CHEETAHS, Brisbane


    When:
    Friday, 10:40 (SA time)

    Referee: Garratt Williamson (NZ)

    TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD

    SuperSport commentators: Australian panel

    Weather outlook: Partly cloudy, warm, light breeze

    Background: The Cheetahs have a deep-rooted reputation as sleepy starters to their overseas tours ... oops, sorry, I’ve just realised that’s what I wrote before the first tour game last week! But there’s no need to erase that sentiment, as the men from the Free State only repeated the dubious trick in that insipid thumping from the ordinary Melbourne Rebels. It’s put them on the back foot in faraway lands and I’m not convinced even Naka Drotske’s confessed reading of the riot act will be enough to turn things around in Brisbane, where South African rugby teams all too often come a cropper. The Reds will be pleased to be playing in front of the home faithful after successive away derbies, where they beat the Brumbies but were unexpectedly humbled 32-5 by the regrouping Waratahs. That might suggest some disarray for the Cheetahs to cash in on, but I am more inclined to see it as motivation for James Horwill, Will Genia and company to pull things together ...

    Key head-to-head: He is prone to the odd spectacular gaffe or walkabout, but there can be no doubting that opponents always have to keep an eagle-eye on the Reds’ cunning and sometimes maverick flyhalf QUADE COOPER. As the Cheetahs come to town, we get the appetising prospect of seeing him go head to head with emerging (but all too often injury-prone) JOHAN GOOSEN. The latter may want to buck up his strike rate off the tee after a wee lapse or two against the Rebels, won’t he?

    Recent history between teams:  May 18, 2013: Cheetahs 27 Reds 13 (Bloemfontein)

    Rob Houwing’s prediction: Reds by nine points

    *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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