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    Sharks to be lone SA winners

    2015-03-27 08:50

    Cape Town – Sport24 chief writer Rob Houwing, in the seventh of his regular South African-focused Super Rugby previews this year, sees the Sharks doing enough to down the Force at Kings Park despite so much upheaval in personnel of late.

    But unimpressed by their showing even in victory over the tourists from Perth last weekend, he reluctantly sees the Bulls – in a blow to their playoffs chances -- being narrowly outwitted by the Crusaders at Loftus.

    There may similarly be no joy (though they have punchers’ chances) for the Stormers in Dunedin or the Lions in Brisbane ... and as for the very weakened Cheetahs, it could turn fairly gory on them in Hamilton.


    BULLS v CRUSADERS, Pretoria

    When: Saturday, 19:10

    Referee: Angus Gardner (Aus)

    TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD

    SuperSport commentators: Owen Nkumane & AJ Venter (Eng), Gerrie Scheepers (Afrik), Kaunda Ntunja & Kaya Malotana (Xho)

    Weather outlook: Cloudy, chance of rain, light breeze

    Background: The listless, unimaginative Bulls looked nothing like a title-interested outfit in edging out the Force, while outscored 3-1 in the try department. It is going to require a massively more committed and accurate performance to down the Crusaders, who ominously look like more than half of an All Blacks team on paper. Given the general mediocrity of the game-plans of most SA sides thus far in 2015, I found it impossible not to tip the visitors, even given the Highveld factor – which no longer seems to scare NZ-based players anyway. The Bulls winning is hardly out of the question, and I have a feeling Handre Pollard will be influential on the day, but a major worry must be the scrums: it surprises me a bit that both Dean Greyling and Marcel van der Merwe are curtailed to the subs ranks for this one, and the ‘Saders could cash in mercilessly on this front.

    Key head-to-head: A few tasty and quite well-established ones here ... including of course the seismic lineout scrap between Messrs Matfield and Whitelock, so well-known to each other at both first-class and Test level. But I’ve chosen instead the clash of the captains, as PIERRE SPIES and KIERAN READ lock horns at No 8. If ever there was an opportunity for forgotten Bok Spies to re-establish his credentials for the national side against the very best opponent possible, this is it. For starters, as much as any colleague in last week’s Loftus slop, an upped work-rate would help enormously in his difficult task.

    Last result between sides: March 16, 2013: Crusaders 41 Bulls 19 (Christchurch)

    Rob Houwing’s prediction: Crusaders by three points

    SA GAME 2

    SHARKS v FORCE, Durban

    When: Saturday, 17:05

    Referee: Nick Briant (NZ)

    TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD

    SuperSport commentators: Matthew Pearce & Gcobani Bobo (Eng), Hennie Koortzen & Kobus Wiese (Afrik), Lonwabo Mtimka & Lungelo Payi (Xho)

    Weather outlook: Cloudy, warm, light breeze

    Background: Phew! The postponement of the Frans Steyn disciplinary saga at least means the hefty unit can take his place at flyhalf as in-form Pat Lambie takes the required mini-break. The Sharks are missing a hatful of normal first choices, but there’s still tons of experience to compensate, and in their humid terrain should be able to keep the spirited yet modest Force at bay. The thought that they might climb to the top of the SA conference, should the Stormers have stumbled earlier in the day in Dunedin, is an appealing extra incentive. What I do hope is that they play some crowd-pleasing rugby, at a time when bums are required on seats at Kings Park. Oh, and keeping 15 men on the park would also help. On that note, a minor fear is that some of the personnel who put in that immense defensive effort to thwart the Chiefs may be pretty exhausted come the later stages; deft use of the bench could be required.

    Key head-to-head: For much of the game against the Bulls, and possibly helped by Matfield’s initial absence from the mix, ADAM COLEMAN was seriously bothersome to the hosts (even if he later gave away the decisive last-ditch penalty!), including tearing away off an in-field break for a try at the posts. The long-legged No 5 lock is a bit Andries Bekker-like in physique, with his 2.05m and 122kg, and hails from relatively rugby-unfashionable Hobart. In the sad absence of Pieter-Steph du Toit, much-travelled veteran MARCO WENTZEL has been working his socks off for the Sharks, however, and has another tough policing job on an enemy second-row foe this time.

    Last result between sides: May 17, 2013: Force 13 Sharks 23 (Perth)

    Rob Houwing’s prediction: Sharks by nine points

    SA GAME 3


    When: Saturday, 08:35 (SA time)

    Referee: Rohan Hoffmann (Aus)

    TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD

    SuperSport commentators: New Zealand panel

    Weather outlook: (Indoor venue)

    Background: A week’s hiatus, immediately ahead of the overseas leg, should carry certain benefits for the Capetonians as they start their four-match itinerary in faraway climes. That icon of the last decade, Schalk Burger, playing his 100th game is another reason to be fired-up at the Forsyth Barr. But it is still a very tough task to win in New Zealand, and the Highlanders are under pressure for a bounce-back win themselves after losing to the Hurricanes in a home derby last weekend. Having seen off the champion Waratahs only a week earlier is nevertheless a reminder of what they are capable of. The Stormers are capable of possession supremacy, and they have kept intact that tight five which put such a spectacular first-half heave on the Chiefs at scrum-time. But whether they can do constructive things with the ball is another matter – already they are showing slightly worrisome signs that four-try tallies won’t come their way too often again this year. I see the Highlanders nicking it, thus ending a bogey spell against these opponents, but the Stormers at least earning a maiden bonus point for staying within seven ...

    Key head-to-head: Don’t get me wrong: this is no statement against the immense Duane Vermeulen. But as the captain takes his break from this game, the Stormers may just be in a position to play a different, more up-tempo game with NIZAAM CARR taking over the eighthman role (one many believe may be his best stationing). He offers superior pace and dynamism to Big Duane there, even if the huge physical side to the normal skipper’s game will be missed. Carr, who is due a rip-roaring game of the type evidenced more regularly from him last year, comes up against the Highlanders’ muscular pack leader, NASI MANU. 

    Last result between sides: May 3, 2014: Stormers 29 Highlanders 28 (Cape Town)

    Rob Houwing’s prediction: Highlanders by six points

    SA GAME 4

    REDS v LIONS, Brisbane

    When: Friday, 11:00 (SA time)

    Referee: Glen Jackson (NZ)

    TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD

    SuperSport commentators: Australian panel

    Weather outlook: Clear, warm, light breeze

    Background: The Lions have probably already exceeded the expectations even of their own fan base by stealing two wins from three tour games so far. Wouldn’t a third be a marvellous cherry on top? With the Reds so not the factor of a few years ago, it is not beyond the bounds of possibility. But there’s still a good dose of Wallaby-level quality in their ranks, and the Queenslanders must be desperate to get off the bottom berth in the Aussie conference. The Lions stole the last meeting between the two on the Highveld last year, courtesy of a 77th-minute Courtnall Skosan try, but I fear their legs will finally go in the fourth quarter this time as “one foot on the plane” takes a hold mentally ... 

    Key head-to-head: The ropey, 14th-placed Reds should feel revitalised by the return of an old favourite for the first time this season as that box of tricks QUADE COOPER takes charge of the No 10 jersey after a lengthy shoulder injury. In doing so, he resumes his long-time partnership with co-Wallaby and scrumhalf Will Genia. But the Lions’ ELTON JANTJIES is also playing good rugby right now and has been restored to flyhalf after a decent appearance at inside centre in the commendable win over the Rebels last week. Former coach John Mitchell had hailed his presence at No 12 as a “fine strategy” afterwards, so the wisdom of curtailing Marnitz Boshoff to the bench this time will be put to the test.

    Last result between sides: March 22, 2014: Lions 23 Reds 20 (Johannesburg)

    Rob Houwing’s prediction: Reds by seven points

    SA GAME 5

    CHIEFS v CHEETAHS, Hamilton

    When: Saturday, 05:30 (SA time)

    Referee: Craig Joubert (SA)

    TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD

    SuperSport commentators: New Zealand panel

    Weather outlook: Partly cloudy, cool, moderate breeze

    Background: Oh dear: no Willie, no Coenie, no Oupa, no Super Sarel. Plus unpleasant, all-too-recent memories of those late floodgates in the 14-57 outcome in Christchurch. You have to feel the poor old Cheetahs are ripe for a proper roasting in this fixture. The fact that Sonny Bill Williams brings his heavyweight presence back into the Chiefs mix (good luck in the 10-12 channel Joe Pietersen and Mikey van der Spuy!) only adds to the likelihood that the Mooloo Men will win, and win good. I see a four-try bonus point before halftime as a real possibility ... and no, not to the Cheetahs, even if memories of 43-43 at Free State Stadium last year will give them at least a semblance of hope at Waikato Stadium.

    Key head-to-head: He’s a clever, multi-skilled utility back and TOM MARSHALL, playing on the left wing for the Chiefs here, will probably be expecting plenty of front-foot action if the fast and loose Cheetahs confirm ongoing defensive frailty here. But if the visitors are to have even the slightest chance of an upset, their own hopes are going to depend on the unusually few game-breakers left in their current ranks. So Marshall’s direct opponent in the Cheetahs’ right, CORNAL HENDRICKS, may have to play out of his skin, stepping, weaving and sprinting like there’s no tomorrow. He is the only Springbok in the backline this week, and will need to demonstrate that pedigree.

    Last result between sides: April 5, 2014: Cheetahs 43 Chiefs 43 (Bloemfontein)

    Rob Houwing’s prediction: Chiefs by 29 points (it just sounds that bit less severe than 30, doesn’t it?)

    *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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