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    Stormers to just deny Naka!

    2012-05-10 11:59
    Cape Town - Rob Houwing, in his South African Super Rugby Week 12 preview, feels the Cheetahs can run the Stormers close - but not break a six-year Newlands duck.

    GALLERY: Stormers in training

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    STORMERS v CHEETAHS, Cape Town


    When: Saturday, 19:10
    Referee: Steve Walsh (Aus)
    TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD


    Long-range weather forecast:
    Partly cloudy, cool, light breeze.

    Background:
    A pleasing little return to a good, old-fashioned South African derby! (It’s the first since the Bulls beat the Lions in Johannesburg a month ago.) And we ought to see a good scrap, with the Stormers clearly favourites back on their home pitch and rested after a bye weekend, but up against a Cheetahs combo which, on paper, looks far from incapable of an upset. Certainly if the men from “Bloem” can win this one, they will rekindle their long shot at the playoffs. But the title-hungry Stormers are desperately hard to dismantle, even with some frontline loose-forward personnel currently on the crocked list. The main question may be: can they finally dot four tries?

    Key head-to-head:
    The Cheetahs will certainly be targeting supremacy on the deck in this one, as a possible key route to a shock triumph. And in that respect the nation’s finest open-sider HEINRICH BRUSSOW – also celebrating his 50th Super Rugby match - will be expected to be at the forefront of things. His opposite number will be SIYA KOLISI, more of a blindside flank but doing a commendable “emergency” job on the other side at the moment: he was also named the franchise’s MVF (Most Valuable Forward) on their overseas leg. He’ll need to be prominent anew ...

    Recent history:
    The Stormers won both clashes in last year’s maiden conference-system season, first 21-15 in a notably dour Newlands tussle and then 44-34 in a much more high-tempo Highveld clash on the last day of ordinary season. They have not lost to these particular foes since 2007 in Bloemfontein (27-9), whilst a year earlier the Cheetahs earned what is still their lone Newlands win (31-25), a year after “independence” from the Cats concept.

    Rob Houwing’s prediction:
    Considering the sort of fluid game the Cheetahs traditionally play, which can leave holes in their defensive shape, the Stormers may quietly be looking for an overdue bonus-point win here if at all possible. For the record, I suspect they will be deprived yet again - but still get the basic triumph by around five to seven points.

    SA GAME 2

    WARATAHS v BULLS, Sydney


    When: Friday, 11:40 SA time
    Referee: Chris Pollock (NZ)
    TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD


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

    Background:
    This fixture pits two slightly “troubled” sides against each other. Of course the Bulls’ woes are infinitely less severe ... after all, they are high on both tables and sporting a winning habit. But their concession of 10 tries in the last two matches does place question marks over their championship quality. Meanwhile the Waratahs are slipping fast off the playoffs radar, and were roasted by the Sydney media for their lame surrender to neighbours the Brumbies last week. But they are still a toughish nut to crack at the “SFS” and the Bulls will need to have ironed out a few strategic snags if they are to go two from two on tour ...

    Key head-to-head:
    A slightly untimely injury to regular inside centre Wynand Olivier (considering their defensive uncertainty) means young FRANCOIS VENTER must slot in smoothly as his replacement and certainly look staunch in the tackle just as rapidly. The 21-year-old Grey College product, who did well in last year’s Currie Cup, has to keep an eagle eye on seasoned, highly versatile Wallaby ADAM ASHLEY-COOPER, also wearing No 12 for this one in a bid to ignite the ‘Tahs attacking play. I did discuss the tasty Hougaard v Pretorius scrumhalf duel on Sport24 earlier in the week, please note! 

    Recent history:
    In 2011 the Waratahs ran the Bulls spiritedly close at Loftus before the hosts won 23-17. Ironically, on that occasion, the Bulls edged it primarily on their gutsy defence, so it’s an incentive to put that department right here. In the last Sydney meeting, in 2009, the Bulls won 20-6.

    Rob Houwing’s prediction:
    Strong composure, even at times when it is disconcertingly raining points at the other end of the park, has been a hallmark of the Bulls’ play this season. So on that basis, and not too much more, I tip the Bulls to edge out the ‘Tahs – let’s say by three points.

    SA GAME 3

    SHARKS v FORCE, Durban


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


    Long-range weather forecast:
    Clear skies, warm, gentle breeze.

    Background:
    Just when one is tempted to suggest that the Sharks are on the brink of joining the also-rans, they have an uncanny knack of rising from the dead! They did so, importantly, against the Highlanders at the “Tank” last weekend, so really ought to get over the line once more against the decidedly mediocre Force. And if they do, they could well find themselves magically placed within the six-team playoffs zone, if one or two other results go their way at the weekend. As for the visitors, if only they had a few more Sharpes and Pococks in their midst, they might have a much better chance of returning to Perth from their two-game SA tour with something to show for it. But they don’t.

    Key head-to-head:
    Former Sydney-based Aussie Sevens player DAVID HARVEY has been one reason for relative cheer in the Force ranks despite another “difficult” collective season thus far. The left-footed Harvey has looked solid in the flyhalf slot and handled place-kicking duties reliably as well: so much so that a short-term contract he started on has mushroomed into full new terms for next year. Up against him, almost certainly (“Plum” is always among the slowest to name his Saturday troops!), will be a PAT LAMBIE very high on confidence himself after scoring all 28 of the Sharks’ points against the Highlanders. And that’s no bad thing for the fresh-faced utility back as the Test season looms large.

    Recent history:
    Last season, in the midst of their early-season charge, the Sharks romped to a 39-12 victory in Perth -- admittedly helped b y Rory Sidey’s red card in the first quarter. The last Durban meeting, a year earlier, was a dead-rubber sort of affair at the end of the campaign, and the Sharks edged it 27-22.

    Rob Houwing’s prediction:
    Really, it will be a scandal if the inconsistent Sharks blow this one (and if so, quite genuinely join the ranks of 2012 no-hopers!). I fancy that instead they will hit their straps for a clear-cut, bonus point victory. Sharks by 25?

    SA GAME 4

    BLUES v LIONS, Auckland


    When: Friday, 09:35 SA time
    Referee: Angus Gardner (Aus)
    TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD


    Long-range weather forecast:
    Partly cloudy, cool, moderate breeze.

    Background:
    A basement scrap, if ever there was one. They have one win each from a combined tally of 19 starts! Psst, is that grounds for suggesting a draw, considering such respective shyness on the victories front? But those tend to be rare as hen’s teeth (none yet this season), and with the Blues desperate to give their Eden Park faithful a belated tonic, smart money arguably suggests that the touring Lions are due still more pain and humiliation. Nevertheless, Josh Strauss and company had their moments against the Chiefs ... now how about a welcome “80 minutes”? 

    Key head-to-head:
    What a dreadful task the Lions have handed poor LIONEL MAPOE. Far more at home in a wing berth, he has the mission of trying to prevent a certain MA’A NONU from turning the No 13 channel into a revolving door (one favouring the Blues, that is). Not making Mapoe’s job any easier, Jaco Taute now has to familiarise himself very quickly with the inside centre role after the fullback had a few weeks at thirteen himself. Still, if the Lions can get on the front foot, Mapoe’s stealth and elusiveness in an attacking capacity might just come to light at times.

    Recent history:
    Last season these sides shared a real ping-pong at Coca-Cola Park ... 73 points were recorded as the Blues banked a 41-32 win in early March. The Lions also took a home hammering (56-14) in 2010. The last Auckland game between these sides (2009) was bleak for the Jo’burgers too ... they lost 36-12.

    Rob Houwing’s prediction:
    Week after week, I keep figuring that the Blues will finally get it right. And then they don’t. Ever. So is it finally time for “sanity” to prevail? Um, no. Not when the limping Lions are the opposition, alas. I believe the Blues will find a head of steam in Auckland ... and cruise in by 14 or so. Oh yes, I could be wrong ...

    *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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    • Crusaders v Melbourne Rebels, Christchurch 08:35
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