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    Stormers to sneak it at Loftus

    2013-02-21 11:53
    Cape Town – Sport24 chief writer Rob Houwing, in his regular Thursday South African Super Rugby preview, takes the tricky first-week plunge - when there is no proper form book to summon! - and predicts wins for the Stormers, Sharks and first-timers Kings.

    SPORT24 PICK OF THE CROP

    BULLS v STORMERS, Pretoria

    When: Friday, 19:10
    Referee: Jaco Peyper (SA)
    TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD
    Commentators: Hugh Bladen, Joel Stransky (Eng), Hennie Koortzen, Kobus Wiese (Afrik), Kaunda Ntunja, Makhaya Jack (Xho)
    Long-range weather outlook: Clear skies, warm, gentle breeze

    Background: It would be easier to confidently tip what will happen in this ever-appetising, north v south crunch if it was being played, say, in round three or four. Pre-season, after all, can be a time only of deceptive outcomes and observations. Who’ll hit the ground running? The Bulls have an edge in continuity, on paper, although despite fielding several new faces at Loftus, the Stormers are shrewd preparers and over the last two years or thereabouts also sport a consistent winning habit (um, outside of knockout play, anyway) ...

    Key head-to-head: Exactly what sort of different dimension will ELTON JANTJIES bring to the Stormers at flyhalf? He’s one of those players some tout very highly, whilst others see some perceived frailties. The Stormers pride themselves on their defence and it is perhaps here that he will be tested most (an area that is a forte of Peter Grant’s, by the way). Up against the baby-faced Jantjies is the more formulaic MORNE STEYN, who nevertheless suits the Bulls’ philosophy down to the ground and is invariably a points-scoring factor at Loftus.

    Recent history: March 31, 2012: Stormers 20 Bulls 17; June 2, 2012: Bulls 14 Stormers 19

    Rob Houwing’s prediction: Yes, I can hear the sigh of derision from up north (my crime for a Cape Town date-line, you see!) as I suggest the Stormers will get in by four points. Please, try to understand that some of we cynical old scribes get quite naturally dispassionate over time, whatever our geographical location. I have simply used common sense from last season’s pecking order as a first-weekend yardstick ... and I also don’t doubt the Bulls have an excellent shout here.

    SA GAME 2

    CHEETAHS v SHARKS, Bloemfontein

    When: Saturday, 17:05
    Referee: Jonathan Kaplan (SA)
    TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD
    Commentators: Matthew Pearce, Bob Skinstad (Eng), Christo Olivier, Toks van der Linde (Afrik)
    Long-range weather outlook: Hot, sunny, moderate breeze

    Background: You’ve got to be a bit careful betting against the Cheetahs when they play at home, and also when their backline contains such lethal packages as Willie le Roux, Raymond Rhule and Johan Goosen. Yet the Sharks, last season’s losing finalists, have done their homework and beefed their squad in several departments of need – the lineout, for instance, will be greatly enhanced by loan recruit Franco van der Merwe. I also have a funny feeling the mildly eccentric Frans Steyn will do a suitably solid job as acting captain. I don’t see them stumbling straight away.

    Key head-to-head:
    There’s not often much room to move in out wide in raw, uncompromising SA derbies ... but if some space does present itself, boy, won’t it be good to see young Cheetahs left wing flier RAYMOND RHULE pitted against the Sharks’ No 14, the long-striding, indisputably world-class game-breaker JP PIETERSEN? Ghanaian-born Rhule has some fledgling experience of the Bok camp from the 2012 end-of-year tour, but what better way to underline his credentials than by giving a strong account of himself against one of the best established Test players there is ...

    Recent history: May 19, 2012: Cheetahs 20 Sharks 34; July 14, 2012: Sharks 34 Cheetahs 15

    Rob Houwing’s prediction: They are supposed to be a bogey team to the Sharks, but a quick look at last year’s clear-cut outcomes in favour of the Durbanites only suggests another loss to these foes looms for the home team ... I tip the Cheetahs to be put away by eight points, thus just missing out on a losing bonus point.

    SA GAME 3

    KINGS v FORCE, Port Elizabeth


    When: Saturday, 19:10
    Referee: Lourens van der Merwe (SA)
    TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD
    Commentators: Andy Capostagno, Robbie Kempson (Eng), John van Rensburg, Breyton Paulse (Afrik), Kaunda Ntunja, Makhaya Jack (Xho)
    Long-range weather outlook: Partly cloudy, mild, moderate breeze

    Background: If the opening round of SA-relevant matches is challenging enough to call anyway, there’s the additional snag of not knowing how to rate the much-maligned, complete rookie Kings! I just have a feeling (some would brand it a highly dangerous one) that debut fever and home-town bedlam will be enough to propel the PE crew over the line by a whisker against the – more often than not -- Aussie strugglers. Luke Watson’s team will also know that if they can’t win this one, there won’t be too many other opportunities in 2013.

    Key head-to-head: He’s not the most popular South African player ever, but LUKE WATSON remains about as good a No 8 (and loose forward generally) as you will get in Super Rugby, and his motivational skills as captain plus own playing acumen will be vital if the Kings are to get off to a winning start in the competition. The Force’s starting XV had not been revealed at the time of writing, but Watson will probably encounter a tough direct obstacle in the shape of Wallaby BEN McCALMAN, who was at the No 8 post in the seven-point loss to the Rebels last week.

    Recent history: Not applicable

    Rob Houwing’s prediction: Uncomfortably and warily, I’m going to favour the Kings by three points. Dunno, maybe I just don’t wish them to fail as much as some compatriots clearly do ...

    *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

    HAVE YOUR SAY: Has Sport24 chief writer Rob Houwing lost the plot? Do you think the Kings will win on debut? Send your thoughts to Sport24.

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