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    Stormers to sneak past Bulls!

    2012-03-29 09:54
    Cape Town - Rob Houwing, in his SA Super Rugby Week 6 preview, tips the Stormers to shade the huge south-north derby at Newlands

    SPORT24 PICK OF THE CROP

    STORMERS v BULLS, Cape Town

    When: Saturday, 19:10
    Referee: Craig Joubert (SA)
    TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD

    Long-range weather forecast:
    Sunny, mild, light breeze.

    Background:
    Lingering doubts about their quality as an attacking outfit don’t disguise the fact that the Stormers are a hard nut to crack these days. Whatever their limitations, they remain unbeaten and home advantage remains a powerful ally in South African derbies. The Bulls have started the season almost as auspiciously in the results column, and that stuffing of the Reds showed how dangerous they can be, even with a host of new staff in 2012. Neither side fields a dedicated fetcher, and the Stormers have gone especially “heavy” in their loose trio by picking uncompromising lock Rynhardt Elstadt at blindside flank, omitting the honest-grafting Nick Koster. It tells you this game may not be pretty ...

    Key head-to-head:
    It was tough nailing down just one; they pop up all over the park! For instance, the battle between lineout kingpins Andries Bekker and Juandre Kruger could be highly influential. But in the end I opted for the intriguing outside centre duel between the Stormers’ JUAN DE JONGH and Bulls counterpart JOHANN SADIE. After all, Sadie sacrificed the Cape for the arch-enemy fold at the end of last season, whilst De Jongh has just extended his contract with the home outfit. Might one of these talented youngsters, who will know plenty about each other, make all the difference with a wicked, game-breaking dart in a tight contest? De Jongh could have the edge as a tenacious defender.

    Recent history:
    Last year, unusually, the away side won in each of the conference clashes between the two ... which is perhaps just one reason for figuring that normal service must resume sooner rather than later? The Stormers prevailed 23-13 at Loftus (even depriving the Bulls of a losing bonus point) but then earned revenge 19-16 at Newlands during their brave but ultimately unsuccessful late charge toward a playoff place.

    Rob Houwing’s prediction:
    I just believe it is foolhardy to place too much emphasis on the Stormers’ unexpected battle to tame the Lions last time out. If anything, it ought to only spur them to play better this weekend ... whilst there is also a case for saying the Bulls may have “mini-peaked” in their slaughter of the Reds! Stormers to sneak it by three points, though I won’t be at all surprised if it’s the other way around.  

    SA GAME 2

    HURRICANES v CHEETAHS, Wellington

    When: Saturday, 06:30 SA time
    Referee: Ian Smith (Aus)
    TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD

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

    Background:

    It’s been a commendable tour by the Cheetahs so far, who might be boasting two wins from three starts abroad right now, rather than just one, had it not been for the refereeing vagaries of Keith Brown in that last-gasp loss to the Brumbies. But they ran the Crusaders extremely close last week and will want to finish the Antipodean adventure with a bang in the Cake Tin. Mind you, this is when tour fatigue can start to be a factor, and the Hurricanes, fresh from pipping the Blues away, won’t easily be conquered.

    Key head-to-head:
    The match-day lineup for the ‘Canes hadn’t been finalised as this was penned, but there seemed no reason to believe flamboyant, versatile All Black CORY JANE won’t be stationed again at right wing, where he would thus come face to face with emerging new Cheetahs attacking weapon  in the No 11 shirt, WILLIE LE ROUX. The refreshingly impulsive ex-Bolander has done enough this season to be branded an “excitement machine” by some non-South African television commentators ... high praise indeed.

    Recent history:
    Last season’s meeting, in Bloemfontein, won’t quickly be forgotten by those who saw it: it was a 97-point feast with the visitors snatching it by a comic-book 50-47 courtesy of Jeremy Thrush’s try in the sweeping final move of the match. Some consolation for the Cheetahs was earning two bonus points themselves in their five-tries-to-six loss -- and they hit a hot winning trail immediately afterwards. 

    Rob Houwing’s prediction:
    It would make for an immensely satisfying leg abroad by Naka Drotske’s charges, once such abject travellers with passports in hand, if they were to finish with a Wellington win. But I still fancy it’s smartest to put your money on the Hurricanes: them by six points.

    SA GAME 3

    BRUMBIES v SHARKS, Canberra


    When: Saturday, 10:40 SA time
    Referee: Keith Brown (NZ)
    TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD

    Long-range weather forecast:
    Partly cloudy, cool, calm.

    Background:
    How will the Sharks be feeling psychologically? After all, they played some rousing rugby at times in Sydney ... yet still ended on the wrong end of a 34-30 scoreline to the cock-a-hoop Waratahs. It places them back under pressure not to fade into tourney mediocrity this year: if they lose to Jake White’s workmanlike charges their record will stand at two wins from six fixtures. You get the feeling the Brumbies, not well-stocked with X-factor on paper, may be punching slightly above their weight in early-season, and be ripe for a fall before too long. That slide could just start here.

    Key head-to-head:
    One “certainty” during otherwise uncertain times for the Sharks this season has been the incredible, muscular industry of their Springbok hooker BISMARCK DU PLESSIS. He is the sort of player at some risk of being overplayed ... simply because of how indispensable he is. As long as the Sharks need to win (and they do right now), they’ll need “Bissie”. Saturday sees him up against another seasoned international in Wallaby baldie STEPHEN MOORE. There won’t be too much stepping back by either party ...

    Recent history:
    The Sharks saw off these foes pretty comfortably (34-16) in Durban last season, scoring four second-half tries after trailing by a slightly ominous 6-16 at the break. The last Canberra Stadium meeting was in 2010, when the home team squeezed out a 24-22 victory.

    Rob Houwing’s prediction:
    I wrongly backed the Sharks to beat the Waratahs last weekend, so there’s a case for saying I should learn a lesson and not back the tourists against their next Aussie opponents. But I’ll stubbornly go with Keegan Daniel’s team again, fired as they ought to be by a “desperation” factor, and hopefully less vulnerable this time to going to sleep immediately after they’ve scored themselves. Brazen pick? Sharks by 11!

    SA GAME 4

    LIONS v CRUSADERS, Johannesburg


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

    Long-range weather forecast:
    Sunny, mild, gentle breeze.

    Background:
    The Lions, not exactly laden with superstars at the best of times, were admirably fiery even with a makeshift-looking combo against the Stormers, dominating most of the 80 minutes but just not being able to make that show on the scoreboard. They could perhaps have done with easier opponents than the Crusaders a week on? The New Zealanders have certainly not got properly out of the blocks yet in 2012 – and may just be quietly planning to set that right in South Africa. Indeed, they’ll be targeting a win here as the Bulls at Loftus loom next up ...

    Key head-to-head:
    I admit this was written a day earlier than usual, ahead of my devious escape to Stilbaai for a long weekend (anyone recommend a good sports bar, BTW?). Neither starting XV had been finalised, with the Lions awaiting various eleventh-hour fitness tests before deciding on a combo, so I won’t risk examining a one-on-one that may not even happen ... here’s just a warning instead that those stocky FRANKS BROTHERS pose a severe scrumming threat to a rookie Lions front row!

    Recent history:
    The Lions skirted the Crusaders last season, but in their last meeting in Christchurch two seasons ago, the ‘Saders had little difficulty in winning 46-19. Mind you, the Lions were still fairly lame tourists then. In the last Ellis Park meeting, in 2009, the visitors also won: 32-20.

    Rob Houwing’s prediction:
    It would be great to think the Lions, the sort of team many neutrals have a soft spot for, could bump off the eternally street-smart, seven-time winners. Sadly I can’t quite see it, unless Josh Strauss and company are right in it with 10 minutes left and travel and altitude fatigue suddenly take hold of the New Zealanders. Crusaders by nine.
     

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    • Crusaders v Melbourne Rebels, Christchurch 08:35
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