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    Sharks to blossom in ‘Bloem’

    2014-07-03 14:11
    Sport24 chief writer Rob Houwing

    Cape Town – Sport24 chief writer Rob Houwing, in his regular South African-geared Super Rugby preview, tips the Sharks to be desperate enough to grind out victory in their demanding away derby against the Cheetahs on Saturday night.

    The Cape-hosted clash between the Stormers and Bulls – the latter still with a mathematical chance of making the playoffs – is also difficult to predict, but he sees the visitors nicking it in likely heavy going underfoot at Newlands.

    In Johannesburg, the Lions seem capable of knocking over the unpredictable Melbourne Rebels ...

    SPORT24 PICK OF THE CROP

    CHEETAHS v SHARKS, Bloemfontein

    When: Saturday, 19:10

    Referee: Rohan Hoffmann (Aus)

    TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD

    SuperSport commentators: Joel Stransky and Owen Nkumane (Eng), Christo Olivier and Werner Swanepoel (Afrik), Lonwabo Mtimka and Mzwandile Stick (Xho)

    Weather outlook: Partly cloudy, cool, gentle breeze

    Background: The Sharks must know that another defeat could have dire consequences: it will make it increasingly feasible that they end up with the worst playoffs berth of the three conference winners – extra game, and no home semi. They’ve worked so hard to avoid that status; they will be thinking “let’s not stuff it up now”. It is for that reason that I fancy the Sharks to just about see off a very strong Cheetahs challenge, despite the risk Jake White has taken of keeping certain overplayed juggernaut players on the bench. Mind you, those very substitutes – names like the Du Plessis brothers, Alberts, McLeod – could be influential in tilting a tight game late on, couldn’t they? The Sharks comfortably enough won the Durban duel earlier in the season, and although the Cheetahs line-up has some fine, genuine X-factor names on paper, the hosts will miss Heinrich Brussow’s scavenging zeal. No four tries, I reckon, but Sharks to leave the Free State with four precious log points ...

    Key head-to-head: There’s no lack of spicy match-ups in the respective backlines – for instance, lively Bok wing colleagues against Scotland Cornal Hendricks and Lwazi Mvovo now square up to each other --  but if this game is decided in the all-important engine room, it may well be vital from a Sharks perspective that fit-again No 4 lock ANTON BRESLER musters sufficient energy to give last week’s Springbok sensation LOOD DE JAGER stern resistance. Bresler, an uncompromising workhorse, is leaving for Edinburgh after Super Rugby, so he ought to want to finish with a bang for the Durban outfit. Presumably the Sharks have done their homework about tall timber De Jager’s rampaging abilities in open play?

    Last result between teams: April 19 2014: Sharks 19 Cheetahs 8 (Durban)

    Rob Houwing’s prediction: Sharks by six points

    SA GAME 2

    STORMERS v BULLS, Cape Town


    When: Saturday, 17:05

    Referee: Craig Joubert (SA)

    TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD

    SuperSport commentators: Matthew Pearce and Bob Skinstad (Eng), John van Rensburg and Breyton Paulse (Afrik), Kaunda Ntunja and Makhaya Jack (Xho)

    Weather outlook: Chilly, light rain, moderate wind

    Background: Never mind that the Stormers have been well out of the playoffs picture for a while, or that the Bulls cling to hopes by an improbable thread: this south-north tussle always gets the juices flowing and ticket sales at Newlands have been encouraging so far despite the prospect of fairly grim weather. On that note, a well-developed cold front is expected to have passed through ahead of the game, so it could be a wet, muddy affair. It is largely on those grounds that I suspect the Bulls’ gnarly and cohesive tight five, spearheaded by Victor Matfield (wonder what colour his scrumcap is going to be?) may be pivotal against slightly makeshift counterparts still missing an important bruiser like Eben Etzebeth, among others. But that’s not to say the Stormers don’t have a puncher’s chance ... in fact, a bit more than that. If their own front five holds its own, the superior quality and balance in their loose trio of captain Schalk Burger, Nizaam Carr and Duane Vermeulen (albeit the big No 8 a fitness doubt at the time of writing) will become a factor of note.   

    Key head-to-head: If conditions are going to be inclement, of course the respective flyhalves, Kurt Coleman (Stormers) and new Bok sensation Handre Pollard of the Bulls will have key opportunities to show off their wet-weather credentials. But just as decisive, perhaps, will be the inside centre scrap – probably as much in a defensive capacity as anything else – between JUAN DE JONGH and JAN SERFONTEIN. The latter is the Bok incumbent, considering the ongoing sidelining of Jean de Villiers, and looking increasingly assured at Test level. But established Stormers favourite De Jongh is also desperate to return to the international picture, even though he is more familiar to a No 13 role. That said, he can more than hold his own in the “nearer” channel, and did so impressively at times for his franchise when Jaque Fourie was his midfield ally a couple of years back.

    Last result between teams: May 10 2014: Bulls 28 Stormers 12 (Pretoria)

    Rob Houwing’s prediction: Bulls by two points

    SA GAME 3

    LIONS v REBELS, Johannesburg


    When: Friday, 19:10

    Referee: Jaco Peyper (SA)

    TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD

    SuperSport commentators: Joel Stransky and Owen Nkumane (Eng), Hennie Koortzen and Kobus Wiese (Afrik), Kaya Malotana and Lungelo Payi (Xho)

    Weather outlook: Clear, cool, light breeze

    Background: The Lions don’t lack spirit at the best of times, even as they ply their trade with consistently fewer stellar names than other domestic franchises around them. So it would be a surprise if they are complacent for this game, one of reasonably rare occasions where they warrant being labelled the favourites. Victory might well tee up the likelihood that Johan Ackermann’s gutsy charges avoid bottom spot at the finish of SA conference play, possibly even ahead of the last round – a praiseworthy state of affairs in their first season back after a hiatus from the competition. Beating the Rebels would also make it very probable that the men from Melbourne would end below them overall. The visitors come off pretty heavy losses to the Reds, Brumbies and Waratahs, so their confidence for this high-altitude meeting won’t be markedly high ...

    Key head-to-head: As this was penned, the Rebels had not yet named their starting XV, but there seemed no reason for them not to have experienced LUKE BURGESS at scrumhalf. Just back from a knee injury, the former Wallabies representative got the first try in their 36-20 defeat to the Reds in their last outing. The much-travelled 30-year-old comes up against diminutive ROSS CRONJE here: he seems to be coach Ackermann’s favoured No 9 at present, with early-season wonder Faf de Klerk again curtailed to the bench although he may feature as a game-breaking factor later in the match. 

    Last result between teams: July 7 2012: Lions 37 Rebels 32 (Johannesburg)

    Rob Houwing’s prediction: Lions by seven points

    *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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