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    Stormers' big Perth incentive

    2012-04-26 13:00
    Cape Town - Rob Houwing, in his South African Super Rugby Week 10 preview, reveals why the depleted Stormers must dig deep enough to down the Force.



    When: Saturday, 11:40 SA time
    Referee: Jaco Peyper (SA)
    TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD

    Long-range weather forecast:
    Cloudy, mild, risk of rain, moderate wind.

    The Stormers do run the risk of travel fatigue setting in as they tackle their fourth and final ordinary-season fixture abroad, rocked also by a near-gruesome spate of injuries to senior personnel. But in that very factor should lie strong motivation for them to turn a good tour into an excellent one, by beating the limited Force to boast three wins on the road. Victory, you see, will only stiffen further their healthy position at the top of the SA conference alongside the Bulls (who are on the brink of their Australasian travels and surely will drop some points). Allister Coetzee’s charges must remind themselves that heading the local table in July – or even better, the broader one too – appreciably lessens the likelihood of much, or any, further overseas slog for them. Beat the Force, currently a lowly 12th overall, and the prospect of a home semi-final and possibly final only swells promisingly. Meanwhile the home team’s best ally is entering this one well rested off a bye, plus knowledge of the significant reshuffling of the Stormers’ cards because of the “sick note” problems. 

    Key head-to-head:
    I’ve already tackled the spicy Sharpe v Bekker lineout battle elsewhere, so will steer clear of it for these purposes, OK? They will not be direct opponents, let it be stressed, as the Stormers’ likely full debutant No 8 NIZAAM CARR knows Force captain and ace scavenger and disrupter DAVID POCOCK will be fielded at open-side flank. But Carr is likely to take to the park as the speediest forward in the visiting ranks, meaning he will be expected to shoulder some responsibility in matching or even eclipsing the nuggety Wallaby to the breakdown. And in broader terms, if the undoubtedly skilful Carr has a strong enough maiden start for his franchise, it should go a long way to ensuring the Capetonians return home in chipper mood despite recent personnel setbacks. A stumbling block, perhaps, is that he will be well shy of 80-minute rugby mileage at present ... 

    Recent history:
    Last year, the Stormers comfortably banked a 51-16 bonus-point victory over these foes at Newlands in late March. After scoring only two tries in four prior games, the hosts turned on the charm to suddenly run in six -- including two each to the Fouries, Jaque and Deon. But the year before that, the Stormers began their overseas tour with a bump, losing 16-15 in a Perth nail-biter to the Force, so some of their players will harbour sobering memories of that one ...

    Rob Houwing’s prediction:
    This may be yet another case of the Stormers, not exactly bonus-point gobblers, being happy simply to bank a basic win and then hop onto the plane. Under current circumstances, four tries might be optimistic despite the Force’s lowly status and ordinary-looking staffing, frankly, in various positions. Some difficulty along the way, but Stormers by seven points? 

    SA GAME 2

    CHEETAHS v HIGHLANDERS, Bloemfontein

    When: Saturday, 17:05
    Referee: Marius Jonker (SA)
    TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD

    Long-range weather forecast:
    Partly cloudy, warm, gentle breeze.

    For the good of their own flickering challenge, plus the interests of South African teams in loftier log positions than they are, the Cheetahs need to knock over the uncompromising Highlanders as they try to get on the sort of “Bloemfontein roll” that marked their last Super Rugby campaign. They have just had the benefits of a bye, so ought to fancy their chances of a mini-upset against the men from Otago, just off a long haul. There were also certain flaws in the Highlanders’ game that will have been noted by Naka Drotske and company as they narrowly saw off the embattled Blues 30-27 in their last fixture.

    Key head-to-head:
    The Highlanders always pride themselves in a slick set-piece, so how stocky Cheetahs tighthead prop WP NEL copes with the visitors’ captain and near-130kg loosehead behemoth JAMIE MACKINTOSH in the scrums could have an important bearing on this match. The latter, who hails from icy Invercargill, has been a mainstay of the Highlanders’ tight five for more than five years, renowned also for his grappling appetite in the mauls. Nel, meanwhile, is on his bike to Edinburgh after the Super Rugby season, so he doubtless wants to end his Cheetahs chapter more on winning than losing notes.

    Recent history:
    Last year the Highlanders saw off Saturday’s opponents by a whisker (24-21) in the Cheetahs’ final overseas tour game on April 8. The visitors were left to rue a few missed penalties by the normally pretty reliable Sias Ebersohn that day. At least the Cheetahs have bragging rights from the last Bloemfontein encounter ... they prevailed 27-21 in 2010.

    Rob Houwing’s prediction:
    The current New Zealand pace-setters, of course, are the Chiefs and I thought the Cheetahs showed enough, even in 33-39 home defeat a fortnight back, against them to suggest that they can topple the marginally less daunting Highlanders – especially with Johan Goosen back calling the shots at flyhalf, captain Adriaan Strauss fit again, and a broadly decent bill of health at present. Cheetahs to sneak it by two, though the other way round is just as possible! 

    SA GAME 3

    LIONS v BRUMBIES, Johannesburg

    When: Friday, 19:10
    Referee: Keith Brown (NZ)
    TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD

    Long-range weather forecast:
    Partly cloudy, mild, gentle breeze.

    If the Lions were looking for overdue reasons to feel optimistic about this match, they may not have found them to the extent they would have liked in observing the Brumbies’ plucky defeat to the Bulls at Loftus. Never mind that the 36-34 scoreline flattered them a little, just managing to outscore Pierre Spies and company 5-2 in the tries column was a moral success of some note. There’s a good team ethic under Jake White to go with some under-rated pizzazz in their back division. Of course team spirit is something the Lions generally pride themselves on, too, but even this has probably become just a little strained as they lurch from one loss to another. Winning this one is vital if they are to somehow claw their way up the SA conference log in a potentially pivotal season.  

    Key head-to-head:
    The Brumbies’ young fullback JESSE MOGG has been a bit of a revelation this season with his incisive and elusive running from the back; it was certainly in evidence again in Pretoria last Saturday. Canberra legend Stephen Larkham reckons he’s the form Aussie No 15 this season and a feasible Wallabies contender. Up against him will be the Lions’ similarly inexperienced but versatile ANDRIES COETZEE, inevitably under pressure to excel because of the ongoing decision to field one of their few star names, Jaco Taute, at outside centre. (It has become quite fashionable for “back three” players to be placed at No 13 in SA this year: think also Bryan Habana, JJ Engelbrecht, JP Pietersen ...)  

    Recent history:
    Last season the Lions earned a famous – certainly for them -- 29-20 victory in Canberra during their surprisingly successful overseas tour. It snapped a 16-year losing streak for them in that city against the Brumbies, and Elton Jantjies was a key string-puller on that occasion. In the last encounter in the Big Smoke, in 2009, the Lions won 25-17, so recent records certainly do provide some encouragement for John Mitchell’s troops.

    Rob Houwing’s prediction:
    You have to imagine that sooner or later the Lions will string together a long-awaited triumph. I’m just not convinced that time is now, alas. That old fox White, no stranger to the rugby culture at Coca-Cola Park, may well know enough ways to unlock the teetering Lions in their own domain. I see the Brumbies, mindful of preserving their Oz conference lead, edging it ... maybe by four points?

    *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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