Cape Town – Sport24 chief writer Rob Houwing, in round 18 of his regular South African-focused Super Rugby previews this year, fancies the deliberately under-strength Stormers XV to give the Sharks a tough game at Kings Park on Saturday night.
But he nevertheless tips the hosts to bid a fitting farewell to some departing Springbok favourites with a pretty tight victory even if their overall log position (11th) won’t change at all.
Meanwhile in Pretoria, where the Bulls entertain the Cheetahs in another sadly low-gravitas derby on the last day of ordinary season, he backs Pierre Spies and company to safely bank a first win in five starts.
*Rob is currently lying 239th out of 1 714 tipsters in the Sport24 Super Rugby predictions pool on SuperBru, and 16 811th out of around 192 000 contestants globally with a win success record of 66%.
SPORT24 PICK OF THE CROP
SHARKS v STORMERS, Durban
When: Saturday, 19:10
Referee: Glen Jackson (NZ)
TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD
SuperSport commentators: Matthew Pearce & Butch James (Eng), Hennie Koortzen & Kobus Wiese (Afrik), Alfred Mzizi & Lonwabo Mtimka (Xho)
Weather outlook: Clear, warm, light breeze
Background: Relish or dread? You wonder what the vibe is like in the Sharks dressing room ahead of this match ... certainly they might have felt rather more up for it had the conference-winning Stormers opted to field their best combination and there was some sort of party-spoiling incentive on offer. But there isn’t, and perhaps the dominant thought among neutrals here will be the potential for home-town embarrassment! The Sharks will be expected to beat these badly diluted foes, and if they don’t it will really sum up a sub-standard season for them. Former Stormers and Sharks player Bob Skinstad may have had only half of his tongue in his cheek on Boots ‘n All when he suggested, too, that the trio of frontline Boks playing last games for the Sharks may find their swansong is turned into a Steven Gerrard type of nightmare farewell to Liverpool (1-6 loss at Stoke) recently! Jokes aside, there should just be enough gnarly experience and desperation in the Sharks’ ranks to prevent a losing finish.
Key head-to-head: The Sharks will be saying goodbye to big WILLEM ALBERTS, who joined the franchise from the Lions for the start of the 2010 season. He has put in some memorably robust shifts for them, but the Bone Collector has also got more and more injury-prone because of the uniquely physical brand of rugby he plays. I reckon he could do with a consistently fire-and-brimstone showing on swansong here, as his starting berth for the Springboks looks less than assured in 2015. It may not be that easy against his blindside flank rival, the Stormers’ MICHAEL RHODES, who makes his first start in some time after a layoff but is a fierce competitor – he will want to bring himself back very close to the match-day mix for the Stormers’ knockout phase.
Last result between sides: March 7, 2015: Stormers 29 Sharks 13 (Cape Town)
Rob Houwing’s prediction: Sharks by four points
SA GAME 2
BULLS v CHEETAHS, Pretoria
When: Saturday, 17:05
Referee: Craig Joubert (SA)
TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD
SuperSport commentators: Owen Nkumane & Joel Stransky (Eng), John van Rensburg & Toks van der Linde (Afrik), Kaunda Ntunja & Makhaya Jack (Xho)
Weather outlook: Partly cloudy, cool, windless
Background: Well, if the Bulls don’t get their attacking act together on this occasion, they probably never will again. We are talking dead rubber, which should help that ethic, but the main reason is that the Cheetahs – weakest SA conference outfit -- have been ridiculously porous in recent matches. They have leaked 58 points to the Waratahs, 42 to the Stormers, 40 to the Lions and 45 to the Highlanders. And, needless to say, lost ‘em all. The Loftus faithful, then, will seek nothing less than a convincing triumph to finish off a disappointing Super Rugby year for the once-mighty, three-time champions of the competition. But first the Bulls pack needs to show the necessary collective industry and aggression – not always apparent on the problematic overseas tour – to ensure a good flow of possession. You have to suspect that even if the Cheetahs are resilient at first, the home combo should take this one by a fairly wide margin.
Key head-to-head: It’s the perfect time, with the Test campaign just around the corner, for a shootout at fullback here between the Cheetahs’ Bok incumbent WILLIE LE ROUX, who has just clawed his way back to fitness, and one of the rising stars of the Super Rugby season, JESSE KRIEL of the Bulls. With so little at stake, this one may be fast ‘n loose, and that could play nicely into the hands of both attack-minded individuals from the back of the park. Le Roux leaves the Free State camp after this game, and will be on the Sharks’ books in next year’s competition, so ought to desire a strong send-off showing. But the youthful Kriel is third only to Messrs Folau and Naholo for running metres this year (1,174) and gets a last chance to beef that tally against a shaky old defence ...
Last result between sides: March 7 2015: Cheetahs 20 Bulls 39 (Bloemfontein)
Rob Houwing’s prediction: Bulls by 12 points
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