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    Sharks to blow away ‘Canes

    2014-02-21 07:46
    Cape Town – Sport24 chief writer Rob Houwing, in his regular South African-geared Super Rugby preview, predicts wins for the Sharks, Stormers and – very narrowly – Bulls this weekend.

    VIDEO: Watch Sport24's Super Rugby Week 2 picks!

    SPORT24 PICK OF THE CROP

    SHARKS v HURRICANES, Durban

    When: Saturday, 17:05

    Referee: Andrew Lees (Aus)
    TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD

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

    Weather outlook: Cloudy, warm, light breeze

    Background: From windy Wellington in cool New Zealand to demonically humid Durban in February ... how these first visitors of the season from abroad cope with that drawback could have an important bearing on this match.

    Certainly if the Sharks are the ones to get ahead early, you sense it will be particularly difficult for the ‘Canes to play catch-up rugby.

    At the same time, you can’t be too blasé in tipping a Sharks win when you have no idea yet what to expect of the various overseas foes.

    The Hurricanes traditionally are a dangerous attacking side, and more often than not a bit suspect in the boiler room. It is here that the heavyweight Sharks, who could still go up a notch on their forward effort against the Bulls, ought to cash in.

    Big Frans Steyn, in good nick last Saturday, will be a key physical presence, I feel, in thwarting the ‘Canes explosive runners ...
    Key head-to-head:

    Sharks outside centre PAUL JORDAAN, his 2013 season blighted by injury, began this one with a bang against the Bulls, looking fast and elusive and clearly revelling in having Steyn pulling strings in the inside berth.

    Now the 22-year-old former IRB Junior World Championship winner comes up against an All Black legend in the shape of Hurricanes captain CONRAD SMITH and can do his booming reputation the power of good if he holds his own – or maybe even then some.

    Cory Jane against Lwazi Mvovo, in a match-up of slippery wings, is another backline duel that has appeal on paper. 
     
    Recent history between teams: Did not meet last season

    Rob Houwing’s prediction: Sharks by 10 points

    SA GAME 2

    LIONS v STORMERS, Johannesburg

    When: Saturday, 19:10

    Referee: Jaco Peyper (SA)

    TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD

    Commentators: Hugh Bladen and Joel Stransky (Eng), Hennie Koortzen and Werner Swanepoel (Afrik), Kaya Malotana and Lonwabo Mtimka (Xho)
    Weather outlook: Partly cloudy, mild, gentle breeze (small chance of light rain)

    Background: Was that gutsy Lions win in “Bloem” just a first-round freak upset or is there actually more substance to Johan Ackermann’s fresh-faced charges than many of us would have expected? The answer may become apparent at what will reportedly be a near-full Ellis Park.

    The danger for the Stormers, after all, is that their opponents have been hardened by an outing in the competition, whereas the Capetonians had a first-round bye and may need some time on Saturday to find fluidity.

    Yet most critics fancy them to end the conference well ahead of the Lions, and on that basis they should be fancied to get over the line here.

    I’m not sure this game, with a relatively untried Stormers backline on view because of injuries, will be particularly pretty and may be decided largely among the “front 10” positions on the park, if you like.  

    Key head-to-head: Considering his rich, match-winning points harvest in the commendable victory over the Cheetahs last weekend, Lions flyhalf MARNITZ BOSHOFF will be considered a key figure again in the unfancied home side’s quest to topple another big gun.

    The man who hails from the Lowveld comes up against the Stormers’ “Greek God” DEMETRI CATRAKILIS, who is every bit as proficient as both a tactical and place-kicker. Interestingly, of course, Catrakilis is Jo’burg-born and schooled, so it’s a bit of a homecoming to the Big Smoke for him.

    Neither No 10 can rest on his laurels: Boshoff may soon be challenged by Elton Jantjies, and Catrakilis by Peter Grant when he returns from Japan shortly.

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

    Rob Houwing’s prediction: Stormers by 9 points

    SA GAME 3

    CHEETAHS v BULLS, Bloemfontein

    When: Friday, 19:10

    Referee: Stuart Berry (SA)

    TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD

    Commentators: Matthew Pearce and Bob Skinstad (Eng), Christo Olivier and Kobus Wiese (Afrik), Kaunda Ntunja and Makhaya Jack (Xho)
    Weather outlook: Cloudy, rain likely, gentle breeze

    Background: Early days ... but already a key derby encounter for both sides because the loser goes “nought from two” which is pretty tough to come back from if serious playoffs hopes are held.

    The Cheetahs will be particularly irked that they were so sloppy – Ollie le Roux was probably right, complacent too – in the shock home loss to the Lions last weekend.

    Surrender this one and weight will be gained to the theory that the Free Staters punched above their weight last season and that a correction is simply taking place.

    A little uncomfortably, I backed the Bulls to end just above the Cheetahs in the conference this season, so had better put money where mouth is by tipping the Bulls to scrape an away victory in what could be damp, levelling conditions impeding the hosts’ ball-in-hand relish.

    The Bulls were overly conservative but otherwise not all bad in their first-up loss to the Sharks.

    A hunch says they’ll squeeze this one out! 

    Key head-to-head: The set-pieces will be of special importance if evening rain materialises, and from a scrummaging point of view I felt the Bulls showed improvement against the Sharks and their all-Springbok front row.

    Those who like their grunt will be looking forward to the meeting between two big-unit props:

    Bulls loosehead DEAN GREYLING against the Cheetahs No 3 COENIE OOSTHUIZEN. I am not yet convinced tighthead is the latter’s best position, because you lose some of his ball-carrying havoc, but no complaints if he ticks the set-piece box in this match ...

    Recent history between teams: April 13, 2013: Bulls 26 Cheetahs 20; June 1, 2013: Cheetahs 25 Bulls 30

    Rob Houwing’s prediction: Bulls by two points

    *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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