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    Sharks to strengthen SA grip

    2013-04-04 14:04
    Sharks coach John Plumtree (Gallo Images)
    Cape Town - Sport24 chief writer Rob Houwing, in his regular South African Super Rugby preview, tips wins for the Sharks and Stormers but further on-tour angst for the Kings.



    When: Friday, 19:10
    Referee: Lourens van der Merwe (SA)
    TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD
    Commentators: Andy Capostagno and Warren Brosnihan (Eng); John van Rensburg and Gary Boshoff (Afrik); Kaunda Ntunja and Makhaya Jack (Xho)
    Long-range weather outlook: Clear, mild, light breeze

    Background: There was a crackling, sometimes hostile atmosphere at near-full Newlands last Saturday, where the presence of the reasonably weighty “Cape Crusaders” faction again ruffled lots of feathers. Expect fewer red jerseys in the crowd at Kings Park, and with it also thus a stronger likelihood that the home cause will prevail. I just believe the conference-leading Sharks are slightly better-equipped than the Stormers right now to exploit some team-composition frailties in the Cantabrian set-up, given their injury and absenteeism difficulties. The Crusaders gave it everything mentally and physically in their heroic triumph in Cape Town, so although this is their supposedly more ideal second tour game, some visiting legs may go in the last quarter. Tell you what, though, if the seven-time champions ensure a 2013 SA mini-sweep here, they won’t half have made a statement about fresh title plans ...

    Key head-to-head: The Crusaders’ lineout supremo SAM WHITELOCK profited from the Stormers’ deep woes on their own throw-in to largely boss the department against Andries Bekker and company last time out. His task now will be to try to ensure dominance anew in the critical phase, this time with FRANCO VAN DER MERWE as his direct opponent at No 5 (although promising Pieter-Steph du Toit will be expected to do his bit for the home cause as well). Kyle Cooper providing a less erratic service than the otherwise lively Deon Fourie did at Newlands will enhance the Sharks’ lineout plans no end ...  

    Recent history: No meeting in 2012; Crusaders won 44-28 at Twickenham in 2011 and later 36-8 in home semi-final at Nelson.

    Rob Houwing’s prediction: Sharks by seven points

    SA GAME 2

    CHEETAHS v STORMERS, Bloemfontein

    When: Saturday, 17:05
    Referee: Stuart Berry (SA)
    TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD
    Commentators: Matthew Pearce and Bob Skinstad (Eng); Christo Olivier and Jaco van der Westhuyzen (Afrik); Lonwabo Mtimka and Mzwandile Stick (Xho)
    Long-range weather outlook: Clear, mild, light breeze

    Background: Few pundits, I’m certain, will have found this an easy game to forecast. The Cheetahs are flying high, and hungrily in search of a record (for them) fifth win on the trot in the competition. Their side looks pretty formidable and currently settled on paper so yes, this will be one of the toughest trips the Stormers have ever made to Bloemfontein. Still, I have a niggling feeling that Naka Drotske’s charges have punched a tad above their weight and that a correction is due. With strong weight of recent history on their side (seven successive wins against these foes) the Stormers are wily and presumably also desperate enough to somehow winkle out a victory here. If they do, it should be by a mere whisker.

    Key head-to-head: After some dour recent Super Rugby meetings between the two, we are due a more sprightly contest ... might this be that occasion? And if it proves the case, one of the most thrilling ball-in-hand match-ups might well be the one between slippery, devilishly jinking wings WILLIE LE ROUX on the Cheetahs’ right against experienced GIO APLON on the Stormers’ left. The re-infusion of Jaco Taute at fullback just suggests the visitors’ plan a more daring approach than usual, so both ‘back threes’ may have some fun on the day ...

    Recent history: May 12, 2012: Stormers 16 Cheetahs 14; July 7, 2012: Cheetahs 6 Stormers 13

    Rob Houwing’s prediction: Stormers by two points

    SA GAME 3

    BRUMBIES v KINGS, Canberra

    When: Friday, 10:40 (SA time)
    Referee: Jaco Peyper (SA)
    TV: SS1, CSN, SHD
    Commentators: Australian panel
    Long-range weather outlook: Partly cloudy, cool, windless

    Background: I just suspect that, whether intentionally or not, the under-the-cosh but still gutsy Kings will be mentally more focussed on attempting to knock over the limited Rebels in Melbourne in their last Australasian tour fixture next weekend than seeking a huge upset against Jake White’s log-leading Brumbies. Hardly helping the underdogs’ cause is that the ACT outfit performed some way off their best in pipping the Bulls last time out; it was their first game back off their SA leg and some weariness seemed to creep in. Such staleness ought to have been flushed out by now, and that’s ominous for Andries Strauss and company, don’t you think? 

    Key head-to-head: The Rosario-born NICOLAS VERGALLO starts in the Kings’ scrumhalf berth at Canberra Stadium and, particularly with the tourists still missing some key troops through injury, may be expected to be a trump-card, given his near eight-year experience as an Argentina international. Up against him is the Brumbies’ eternally lively and aware NIC WHITE, who so infuriated the Bulls last weekend by lying all over the ball at that fateful late ruck, yet winning the game-deciding penalty!

    Recent history: Not applicable

    Rob Houwing’s prediction: Brumbies by 29 points

    *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

    HAVE YOUR SAY: Do you concur with Rob Houwing's Round 8 predictions? If not, email us your picks for this weekend's Super Rugby matches. Send your thoughts to Sport24.

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