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    Sorry, Sharks to stumble again

    2014-05-16 10:25
    Sport24 chief writer - Rob Houwing
    Cape Town – Sport24 chief writer Rob Houwing, in his regular South African-geared Super Rugby preview, fancies a fired-up Sharks display against the Crusaders ... but their “reward” will be a mere losing bonus point.

    He also musters some patriotic juices from somewhere to suggest the Cheetahs will pip the Brumbies and Stormers do likewise against the Force, but feels the Lions have already blown their best chance of an overseas tour win.

    SPORT24 PICK OF THE CROP

    CRUSADERS v SHARKS, Christchurch

    When: Saturday, 09:35 SA time

    Referee: Rohan Hoffmann (Aus)

    TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD

    SuperSport commentators: New Zealand panel

    Weather outlook: Clear, cool, light breeze

    Background: Considering the lack of verve that has characterised their performances -- even in victories -- in recent weeks, I was a little surprised by a couple of the Sharks’ changes for this one, finding it tricky to view them as necessarily constructive or enterprising. For one thing, Lwazi Mvovo, a bright spark at fullback, is back at wing, where he may be less influential, whilst the switch of Willem “Bone Collector” Alberts to No 8 (rather than his more customary blindside flank berth) from lock in the place of speedy Ryan Kankowski still hints at a blunt-instrument approach. Then again, maybe shrewd schemer Jake White believes dragging the ‘Saders into a grinding forward scrap is the best way to try to subdue them? The home team are on a majestic five-wins-from-five streak, and with weather conditions looking benign are by far the likelier side on the day to “play the rugby”, as it were.

    Key head-to-head: The Sharks are well aware that versatile FRANS STEYN has been overplayed this season – Pat Lambie’s long-term injury a key reason -- but simply couldn’t bring themselves to benching or resting him for such a seismic clash. Instead he gets the chance to atone for his shaky, ponderous display at flyhalf against the Brumbies. A good start would be to bang over more of his place-kicks than last week. On that note, his direct rival (and main man off the ‘Saders own tee) is COLIN SLADE, brimful of confidence in all areas at present as the ex-Highlanders player has unsurprisingly started interesting the All Blacks selectors anew. This game may well be tight, so the respective accuracies at the posts and in tactical terms of Steyn and Slade could be an important game-swayer.  

    Last result between sides: April 5, 2013: Sharks 21 Crusaders 17 (Durban)

    Rob Houwing’s prediction: Crusaders by four points

    SA GAME 2

    CHEETAHS v BRUMBIES, Bloemfontein

    When: Saturday, 19:10

    Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen (SA)

    TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD

    SuperSport commentators: Joel Stransky and Owen Nkumane (Eng), Christo Olivier and Toks van der Linde (Afrik), Lonwabo Mtimka and Mzwandile Stick (Xho)

    Weather outlook: Clear, cool, near-windless

    Background: Cheetahs, Cheetahs ... I have gambled on you. Repay the faith, won’t you? One of my (often admittedly iffy) gut feels tells me the Free Staters will confirm here their ability to knock over just about anybody – sometimes even rousingly – in Bloemfontein when the mood grabs them. My prediction has been met with near-ridicule among more sober members of the Sport24 team, but it hasn’t stopped me. OK, their attacking cause is not helped by the injury to “Super Sarel” Pretorius at scrumhalf ... but perhaps the more pragmatic Shaun Venter will bring a touch of sanity to their questionable defensive make-up? Given their discipline and adherence to sound structures, I admit that the Brumbies may well make a mockery of my pick ... especially as they will have learnt from the experience of others that the Cheetahs opening up a lead of 15-plus points is no necessary guarantee of a win for them. But heck, the Aussies have just done the long haul to the great South African interior; Cheetahs to catch ‘em cold, I tell you!  

    Key head-to-head: As with so many Cheetahs games, this one could see some frantic, to-and-fro rugby. But with the visitors probably delighted just to bank four win points if they can in their opening SA tour fixture and not be too obsessed with the four-try aspect, they’d be happy enough to grind this one out and make sure their set-piece work is up to scratch. In that regard, long-serving hooker STEPHEN MOORE will be a vital presence both at scrum-time and in lineout precision. The 31-year-old Wallaby and loyal servant of the Brumbies – this is his sixth season for them – should encounter stern resistance nevertheless from the Cheetahs’ captain and No 2 counterpart ADRIAAN STRAUSS, also no stranger at all to Test duty. Frankly, Strauss gets played into the ground by Naka Drotske, who should know better, but that doesn’t mean he won’t breathe fire. Again!  

    Last result between sides: July 21 2013: Brumbies 15 Cheetahs 13 (Canberra, finals series 1st round)

    Rob Houwing’s prediction: Cheetahs by three points

    SA GAME 3

    STORMERS v FORCE, Cape Town

    When: Saturday, 17:05

    Referee: Chris Pollock (NZ)

    TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD

    SuperSport commentators: Matthew Pearce and Gcobani Bobo (Eng), Hennie Koortzen and Kobus Wiese (Afrik),Kaunda Ntunja and Makhaya Jack (Xho)

    Weather outlook: Sunny, cool, moderate wind

    Background: Strange how the wheel turns, eh? At the start of the 2014 season, Stormers fans – so used to their side being strong title-chasers -- would have been reasonably entitled to look at the roster and think: “Hmm, Force at Newlands in late campaign ... that one should be a banker”. Instead the boot is dramatically on the other foot, with the Perth-based outfit pushing admirably well for the top six and the Stormers rare down-and-outs with only pride to play for. So hugely below full strength, clearly the Capetonians are vulnerable here ... and probably second-favourites to win by a lot of tipsters. But it’s still not a cakewalk to come to Newlands and simply brush aside the Stormers, and even if they are in a rebuilding phase that has brought fresh lows to accompany some highs, victory here is possible if the biggest names in the home ranks pitch up for combat in a big way. I did mention Duane Vermeulen in that respect earlier in the week ...   

    Key head-to-head: The Force have surprisingly handed Luke Burton a demanding Newlands Super Rugby debut at inside centre, and also switched outside centre MARCEL BRACHE – who can cover both slots quite easily -- to unfamiliar right wing. That is despite Brache, no stranger to the Cape Town franchise, getting into the Sydney Morning Herald’s Aussie conference “team of the week” recently for his resourceful showing at No 13 against the Cheetahs. He is possibly not the speediest of whippets for the wider position ... and may thus have his hands full policing the little former Baby Bok wunderkind CHESLIN KOLBE, who has not quite yet shown his most explosive qualities at this level for the Stormers. Psst, might Saturday change that?    

    Last result between sides: April 28 2012: Force 3 Stormers 17 (Perth)

    Rob Houwing’s prediction: Stormers by three points

    SA GAME 4

    WARATAHS v LIONS, Sydney

    When: Sunday, 08:05 SA time

    Referee: Nick Briant (NZ)

    TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD

    SuperSport commentators: Australian panel

    Weather outlook: Partly cloudy, cool, light breeze

    Background: Failing so agonisingly at the death to upset the Highlanders in Dunedin last weekend, following that heroic fightback from what was looking like a slaughter-in-the-making, could have the effect of really firing up the Lions in Sydney. Er, I did say “could”. A scenario I consider likelier is that the Waratahs – fresh off a bye – will have had their reminder in watching that performance that they can’t afford to be complacent in this next obstacle in their playoffs quest. Yes, it is the Lions who well be suffering a hangover from Dunedin, and just continue their tumble down the table. Whilst you have to seriously laud their ability to seldom surrender by massive margins, the unsung Jo’burgers pin a lot of faith in their scrummaging ethic ... yet these opponents don’t like taking steps back in the set-piece either! Not with the likes of Messrs Robinson, Polota-Nau and Ryan in their front row and Kepu lurking among the subs. It’ll be all square at the scrums, at best, for the Lions ... and where else can they gain ascendancy?

    Key head-to-head: The Waratahs have a big and bruising pack at the best of times, and it’s just got brawnier with the restoration to their starting line-up (only change) of that freakishly large 21-year-old WILL SKELTON to the No 4 lock shirt. The 140kg Skelton was impactful off the bench in the victory over the Hurricanes last time out, and now gets the chance for a longer slug-out against the fast-fading Lions. Directly opposing him for the visitors – the David to challenge the Goliath, if you like – will be the similarly inexperienced (at Super Rugby level) MB LUSASENI. The East London-born versatile forward, who doubles as a flanker, will give away plenty on the scale to Skelton ... but we know Lions forwards this year don’t readily stand back, do they?

    Last result between sides: May 21 2011: Waratahs 29 Lions 12 (Sydney)

    Rob Houwing’s prediction: Waratahs by 12 points

    *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing
    Read More On:  super 15 rugby

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