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    Stormers to go 5/5 ... just!

    2015-03-13 10:20
    Cape Town – Sport24 chief writer Rob Houwing, in the fifth of his regular South African-focused Super Rugby previews this year, fancies that the Stormers, cashing in on increasingly fervent home support against foes who’ve just made a long trek, will narrowly see off the Chiefs at Newlands on Saturday.

    With stronger conviction, he reckons the hitherto snoozing Sharks will get it right in a critical clash (at least for them) with the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein.

    As for the Lions, they will probably be on the receiving end, alas, of the concerted push by the Crusaders to restore some heavyweights to their starting XV in Christchurch ... maybe influenced by the Highvelders’ tour-opening theft of the spoils against the Blues?


    STORMERS v CHIEFS, Cape Town

    When: Saturday, 15:00

    Referee: Jaco Peyper (SA)

    TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD

    SuperSport commentators: Matthew Pearce & Bob Skinstad (Eng), Gerrie Scheepers & Kobus Wiese (Afrik), Kaunda Ntunja & Lungelo Payi (Xho)

    Weather outlook: Fine, very warm, light breeze

    Background: Another of those potentially step-on-a-landmine picks; you don’t want to tip a side with the cross-park quality of the Chiefs for a defeat too often. Make no mistake, they could win this ... and they could even do so with a bit to spare if ‘SBW’ and company hit their straps against a still relatively naive, developing Stormers combo. So why am I inclined toward the home side coming out on top to retain their perfect record and register victory No 5? Probably just the common sense in punditry of sticking to a team that has a regular winning habit going, against opponents visiting off a very recent journey through several time zones. The encouraging thing about the current Stormers is that they’ve made a roaring start on paper without yet suggesting they’ve shown everything they possess from an attacking point of view. Their scrum is not only holding its own but becoming a genuine asset, so if they can get their lineout sorted (even though it is a pity neither of Messrs Etzebeth or Botha starts here) against the Chiefs they could be onto a pretty good thing in front-foot terms.

    Key head-to-head: We’ve probably read enough already about the appetising Williams v De Allende midfield showdown, so I’ll take a different tack. There have been reports in the New Zealand press this week that Chiefs flyhalf AARON CRUDEN may be close to losing his berth in the All Blacks’ plans for this World Cup year due to his wonky place-kicking in recent times. Stormers fans will be secretly hoping, then, that Murphy’s Law doesn’t strike at Newlands and he suddenly lands every “opp” that comes his way! We are well aware of his trickery threat in general play, and here he lines up opposite KURT COLEMAN, who a little unexpectedly gets a start this week ahead of the home team’s own dead-eye kicker Demetri Catrakilis. I found that a tad surprising, if only because the Greek God has been so unfailing off the tee this season - and that department could just tilt a close ‘un come Saturday? Still, Coleman has slightly better go-forward potential with ball in hand and it’s not as though his own shots at goal have been notably off-target when required to pick up that tab ...

    Last result between sides: March 14, 2014: Chiefs 36 Stormers 20 (Hamilton)

    Rob Houwing’s prediction: Stormers by two points

    SA GAME 2

    CHEETAHS v SHARKS, Bloemfontein

    When: Saturday, 17:05

    Referee: Chris Pollock (NZ)

    TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD

    SuperSport commentators: Owen Nkumane & Warren Brosnihan (Eng), Christo Olivier & Toks van der Linde (Afrik), Lonwabo Mtimka & Makhaya Jack (Xho)

    Weather outlook: Partly cloudy, warm, moderate breeze

    Background: Commentator and former Sharks/Bok prop Robbie Kempson echoed on SuperSport on Thursday my own belief, expressed earlier in the week, that the Durbanites can probably be considered also-rans – yes, already -- if they lose in Bloemfontein. That’s strong fuel for suggesting the supposed giants will dig deep to pull this one off. Quirkily, too, the Sharks have a better record in recent times in the Free State metropolis against the Cheetahs than they do in Durban, so it’s not as though the away nature of the contest is going to freak them out too much. Long-term injuries to men like Stephan Lewies and Paul Jordaan mean the Sharks still have a few slightly weak-looking departments amidst their strengths, but at least they can field their all-Springbok front row here to potentially ease their Newlands woe in this key set-piece. The Cheetahs, with some dangerous individuals, will go all out for a 2015 conference “double” over these rivals, for sure ... but they were well beaten by the Bulls in their last game and I’m afraid I do see a repeat loss for them.  

    Key head-to-head: I’ve featured him in this slot previously this season ... but perhaps that’s also an indication of how COENIE OOSTHUIZEN has begun to regularly blossom (if that’s the right word for a pockmarked front-ranker?) as a dedicated tighthead. Here we get a possible scrummaging classic as he gets to grips with his Springbok ally TENDAI MTAWARIRA. Of course the Beast will be disadvantaged by being short of a gallop, having been rehabbing from injury in recent weeks, and may only be good for 55 minutes’ activity or thereabouts in this contest. But he ought to be right up for it mentally knowing how the bulky Oosthuizen has come on at No 3. Expect to see good battering-ram moments from each in open play, too.

    Last result between sides: February 14, 2014: Sharks 29 Cheetahs 35 (Durban)

    Rob Houwing’s prediction: Sharks by five points

    SA GAME 3

    CRUSADERS v LIONS, Christchurch

    When: Saturday, 05:30 (SA time)

    Referee: Nick Briant (NZ)

    TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD

    SuperSport commentators: New Zealand panel

    Weather outlook: Cloudy, cool, gentle breeze

    Background: Shame, as we say back home ... the NZ media were so obsessed with the very fact that the crisis-torn Blues lost last week that they made little acknowledgement of the guts and incredible stamina exhibited by the Lions in a famous little Albany triumph for them. Now they face the seven-time champion ‘Saders in their second tour game and the big question has got to be: can they defend the muddy trenches so stoically again, just a few days on? It is desperately hard to see Warren Whiteley’s bravehearts coming out on top, not least because several major All Blacks filter back into the home team’s mix, plus the fit-again freight train that is Nemani Nadolo will bring his unique brand of terror out wide. The Lions skipper admitted on Boots & All on Thursday that they would need rather more possession than last time out if they’re to register another upset. I don’t believe the Lions will disgrace, especially as the Canterbury side have lost much of their imperiousness of yesteryear. But I also suspect the Jo’burgers won’t quite be up to nicking even a losing bonus point ...

    Key head-to-head: Matt Todd is reportedly being rested, so the Crusaders restore versatile veteran RICHIE McCAW to his old, once staple open-side role. That puts him into a potentially high-quality tussle with the Lions’ emerging JACO KRIEL in the pilfering department; the Standerton-born Bok squad rookie has an ideal chance to show his mettle against a 137-Test All Black legend and he has the satisfaction of knowing that co-flank Warwick Tecklenburg has been just as hard-grafting as a fetcher and tackler of late. Again, though, all of the Lions loosies put in especially murderous shifts in keeping the Blues at bay; they’ll do well to repeat such levels.

    Last result between sides: April 5, 2014: Lions 7 Crusaders 28 (Johannesburg)

    Rob Houwing’s prediction: Crusaders by 11 points

    *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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