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    Stormers: More lean pickings!

    2015-04-10 08:01

    Cape Town – Sport24 chief writer Rob Houwing, in the latest of his regular South African-focused Super Rugby previews this year, finds it hard to imagine the Stormers arresting a three-game losing streak against the defending champion Waratahs in Sydney.

    But he does see the Bulls earning a slice of bilateral revenge over the Aussies later on Saturday when they tackle the labouring Reds at Loftus.

    The plucky Lions must be on reserve tank as they contemplate a last game before a well-merited bye, although they could cash in one more time against the all-at-sea Sharks ... whilst the Cheetahs will end their overseas leg winless, alas, after their Perth stopover.



    When: Saturday, 11:40 (SA time)

    Referee: Mike Fraser (NZ)

    TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD

    SuperSport commentators: Australian panel

    Weather outlook: Partly cloudy, mild, light breeze

    Background: Yes, you could look at the second half against the pace-setting Hurricanes (which the Stormers “won” 17-0 in Wellington) as a source of optimism if you are partial to the touring Capetonians and mulling over their next stiff task against the gnarly ‘Tahs. That spell certainly showed fresh flashes of what the Stormers are capable of. But the glass-half-empty view might be that they simply clawed back a bit after the horse had long bolted, and there does appear to be a problem with putting it all together for nearer the full 80 minutes. Also to factor in is that the one purring aspect of their game, the scrum, may meet its match here. Throw in the greater physicality and collective rhythm of the Waratahs’ backline, and even a losing “BP” isn’t assured for the Stormers here, is it? I also wonder whether a start for Kurt Coleman at No 10 might not have been a good idea here ...   

    Key head-to-head: The regrettable absence for such a humdinger of a resting Duane Vermeulen has necessitated a Stormers loose trio reshuffle ... but one pretty good result has been under-rated work-horse MICHAEL RHODES coming back into the blindside flank position. They’ll need his uncompromising nature for some go-forward, as his equivalent in the Waratahs line-up is compatriot JACQUES POTGIETER, that wild-haired wrecking ball who has become something of a cult figure for the NSW outfit with his fearless approach to collision aspects and the like. Rhodes, no softie himself, adds some strength to the visitors’ lineout options as well.  

    Last result between sides: April 5, 2014: Stormers 11 Waratahs 22 (Cape Town)

    Rob Houwing’s prediction: Waratahs by nine points

    SA GAME 2

    LIONS v SHARKS, Johannesburg

    When: Saturday, 17:05

    Referee: Stuart Berry (SA)

    TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD

    SuperSport commentators: Matthew Pearce & Bob Skinstad (Eng), John van Rensburg & Werner Swanepoel (Afrik), Kaunda Ntunja & Kaya Malotana (Xho)

    Weather outlook: Partly cloudy, mild, near windless

    Background: The Lions get a break at last next weekend ... with that in mind, another heroic push ought to come from them here, with exemplary team spirit trumping any understandable signs of fatigue after a long sequence of games including the overseas jaunt. Their opponents were rocked by that butchery at the hands of the Crusaders last time out, and may still be at sixes and sevens, especially as certain changes to the mix by Gary Gold are more by necessity than outright choice – plus a simultaneous rest for Beast Mtawarira and Jannie du Plessis doesn’t seem the most profitable course of action at this point. I’m afraid the current Sharks personnel ooze vulnerability and a lack of chutzpah, even if fit-again Lions old boy Willem Alberts lurking on the bench offers some hope for a second-half impact. The Sharks do have a good chance, if they’re suitably up for it, but it’s time I showed some personal faith in the Jo’burgers ... Lions to go top of the conference for a couple of hours!  

    Key head-to-head: With several likelier candidates victims either of injury or suspension, the busy baton of Sharks leadership is passed to much-travelled second-rower MARCO WENTZEL for this shot at team redemption. How (or indeed whether?) he manages to unify the troops could have an important bearing on the way this derby tilts. But he also has to think about policing his opposite number FRANCO MOSTERT, who is one of the unsung, routine heroes of the Lions’ boiler room. Anything but a “flash” player, he cleans out rucks tirelessly and makes key, short yards in little space with ball in hand which nevertheless can be a trigger for broader momentum.

    Last result between sides: February 21, 2015: Sharks 29 Lions 12 (Durban)

    Rob Houwing’s prediction: Lions by five points

    SA GAME 3

    BULLS v REDS, Pretoria

    When: Saturday, 19:10

    Referee: Jaco Peyper (SA)

    TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD

    SuperSport commentators: Owen Nkumane & Joel Stransky (Eng), Hennie Koortzen & Kobus Wiese (Afrik), Lonwabo Mtimka & Makhaya Jack (Xho)

    Weather outlook: Partly cloudy, warm, gentle breeze

    Background: The Bulls will be filthy about the way they botched that all-important kick-off against the Lions in the dying seconds of last week’s all-Highveld thriller after appearing to have swung the game their way (I was bleak, too, for the way it harmed my Superbru tips weekend). So it is vital the Loftus-based side bounce back with some urgency against the ropey Reds – preferably with a full house of log points, too. Even with Handre Pollard still injured and a key pack figure like Adriaan Strauss resting, they have the firepower to achieve that goal. In fact, it will be a near-disgrace if they botch this one against a Reds XV missing James O’Connor and Quade Cooper – it means reserve scrumhalf Nick Frisby having a stab at No 10 – and the suspended James Horwill up front. The Bulls have a strong forward bench, too, with young Hanro Liebenberg and a returning Springbok Flip van der Merwe among the aces up their sleeves as the game develops.

    Key head-to-head: With a bit of luck, this game will open up a fair bit in the expected pleasant conditions (certainly the Reds have little to lose by giving the ball a spin). Against that backdrop, rival fullbacks JESSE KRIEL and KARMICHAEL HUNT ought to come into their own as offensive weapons. The youthful Kriel has already made sterling strides for the Bulls this season, whilst occasional bad boy and former league star Hunt – making his first start since his cocaine bust earlier in the year – should also revel on the firm, fast Pretoria pitch. His defence may be tested to the full, mind you.  

    Last result between sides: March 23, 2013: Reds 23 Bulls 18 (Brisbane)

    Rob Houwing’s prediction: Bulls by eight points

    SA GAME 4


    When: Saturday, 13:45 (SA time)

    Referee: Rohan Hoffmann (Aus)

    TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD

    SuperSport commentators: Australian panel

    Weather outlook: Cloudy, chance of showers, moderate breeze

    Background: The bad news for the Cheetahs, maybe, is that the game is reffed by a certain Rohan Hoffmann, who did the Stormers no favours with some dodgy calls in Wellington. Other than that, they have reason to feel this constitutes their best chance of breaking their long-time victory duck abroad. Crusaders, Chiefs and Brumbies in that order was always going to be a tough ask, and at times in all three games they had promising periods. The Cheetahs could do the business here, but their opponents come off a rejuvenating bye, whereas they may be drifting toward homesickness. Not helping the prospects of Francois Uys and company is the fact that last season they slipped up at home to the Force. So an away triumph may once again prove elusive, I fear.

    Key head-to-head: If the Cheetahs are to stave off a clean sweep of defeats on their Australasian tour, the return of known game-breaker SAREL PRETORIUS at scrumhalf could be vital to their victory chances – he reportedly looked suitably fresh when he made a substitute appearance against the Brumbies last weekend. Super Sarel’s eye for a gap and devilish swerve are legendary, although he will also need to have his defence (not always a great suit) up to scratch against another elusive No 9 in the shape of the Force’s ALBY MATHEWSON, a 2010 All Black and experienced Super Rugby journeyman.

    Last result between sides: May 10, 2014: Cheetahs 16 Force 23 (Bloemfontein)

    Rob Houwing’s prediction: Force by seven points

    *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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