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    Too little left in Lions’ legs?

    2015-05-28 14:33

    Sport24 chief writer Rob Houwing

    Cape Town – Sport24 chief writer Rob Houwing, in round 16 of his regular South African-focused Super Rugby previews this year, fears the Lions will finally run out of petrol in the Big Smoke, allowing the title-holding Waratahs to narrowly steal a Super Rugby humdinger on Saturday night.

    The Stormers, meanwhile, should entrench their position at the top of the SA conference by not allowing lightning to strike twice – or read: the Cheetahs upsetting them twice in the same month – whilst the Bulls seem unlikely to arrest their overseas tour bogey against the Brumbies a day earlier.

    But Rob backs the Sharks to continue their drive to end a wretched campaign with a late flourish, earning a second Aussie scalp in a week by seeing off the Rebels at Kings Park.

    *Rob is currently lying 223rd out of 1,708 tipsters in the Sport24 Super Rugby predictions pool on SuperBru, and 16,582nd out of around 192,000 contestants globally with a win success record of 66%.


    LIONS v WARATAHS, Johannesburg

    When: Saturday, 19:10

    Referee: Jaco Peyper (SA)

    TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD

    SuperSport commentators: Owen Nkumane & Joel Stransky (Eng), John van Rensburg & Kobus Wiese (Afrik), Kaunda Ntunja & Makhaya Jack (Xho)

    Weather outlook: Clear, mild, windless

    Background: Is this finally the end of the 2015 road in playoffs challenge terms for the gutsy Lions? The only thing you can be sure of, as they steel themselves for the defending champion Waratahs, is that they determinedly won’t want to believe that. They’re very much a “live to fight another day” side, and won’t desire visiting Newlands a week later knowing that they are toast both for the conference title and a finals series spot. It will be a surprise if they capitulate to the ‘Tahs ... but will they actually be able to beat them? The visitors boast plenty of international superstars, and if their heavyweights “pitch up” they should probably be deemed slight favourites. History also hugely favours the Aussies: they’ve won 14 of the 15 Super Rugby encounters, including the last meeting in the Big Smoke as far back as 2009 (38-33) when Phil Waugh was still around and the Lions had personnel like Jano Vermaak and Willem Alberts. Certain key Lions customers are very close to punched-out for the season, I fear ... this game may demonstrate it.

    Key head-to-head: This could be a desperately tight, tense encounter given the high stakes involved. A moment of solo inspiration or opportunism may just be required to tilt it ... and if you are looking for a source of special game-breaking quality from a Lions player, then fleet-footed No 6 dynamo JACO KRIEL jumps out as a strong candidate. He showed characteristic pace and strength to bolt away for a try against the Brumbies last weekend. The Waratahs’ open-sider MICHAEL HOOPER is no slouch for ball-in-hand mobility himself, and also boasts a high tackle count on defence: he lies fourth on the tournament list with 144, although still trails the other stalwart Lions loosies: leader Warren Whiteley (204) and Warwick Tecklenburg (153).

    Last result between sides: May 18, 2014: Waratahs 41 Lions 13 (Sydney)

    Rob Houwing’s prediction: Waratahs by two points

    SA GAME 2


    When: Saturday, 17:05

    Referee: Craig Joubert (SA)

    TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD

    SuperSport commentators: Matthew Pearce & AJ Venter (Eng), Christo Olivier & Toks van der Linde (Afrik), Lonwabo Mtimka & Lungelo Payi (Xho)

    Weather outlook: Partly cloudy, chance of rain, gentle breeze

    Background: Like so many other pundits, I gave the Cheetahs only a small chance when they entertained these foes in the first-round clash earlier this month ... and they duly knocked the Stormers over, even depriving them of a losing bonus point. So how about a fairytale double for the men from the interior? On what ought to be a damp, sluggish Newlands surface following the arrival of early winter rain, it really shouldn’t happen. For one thing, the Stormers should scrum the life out of a Cheetahs pack with a pretty lightweight front row, and be generally fired-up to avenge the battle of Bloemfontein. Just imagine the damage to the hosts’ conference-winning quest and tussle for a good playoffs position if they come a cropper all over again; it would more acutely turn the SA group into a “sloppy seconds” (or even less desirable thirds!) sort of landscape. I tip the Stormers to win by a fairly wide margin, taking into account the scoreboards between the sides at the same venue last year (33-0) and in 2013 (28-3).

    Key head-to-head: Given the destructive current form of barrel-chested Stormers loosehead prop STEVEN KITSHOFF, all you can say to Cheetahs tighthead MAKS VAN DYK is “good luck” at scrum time. Still minus the considerable bulk of Coenie Oosthuizen, the Free Staters lack a few kilos in this area among the tight five, and Van Dyk himself (113kg) gives away almost 10 to Kitshoff, who looks every bit a Bok candidate in all areas of his deployment at present. Not helping is that the Cheetahs No 3 was penalised a few times at the set-piece against the Lions last week. But one thing on his side is that he at least knows Kitshoff quite well: they were the starting Baby Bok props when they won the 2012 IRB Junior World Championship final against New Zealand at Newlands. 

    Last result between sides: May 2, 2015: Cheetahs 25 Stormers 17 (Bloemfontein)

    Rob Houwing’s prediction: Stormers by 15 points

    SA GAME 3

    BRUMBIES v BULLS, Canberra

    When: Friday, 11:40 (SA time)

    Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen (SA)

    TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD

    SuperSport commentators: Australian panel

    Weather outlook: Clear, chilly, gentle breeze

    Background: Look at these sides on paper and there isn’t too much to separate them in those terms. It’s just that the Bulls seem fatally sleepy when it comes to realising how much better they could be in 2015 both in performance and results terms – especially on this currently winless Australasian leg. An overseas loss record that has now stretched to nine on the trot is also no ideal yardstick to making them favourites in Canberra. So sadly I won’t. The Brumbies are right in the playoffs frame themselves at this advanced stage – better so than their foes here – so slipping up will be the last wish on their minds. Perhaps a South African referee is some form of solace to Pierre Spies and company, plus knowledge that last year they thumped the Brums by 21 points at Loftus. But that’s Pretoria ... and this ain’t it!  

    Key head-to-head: Fullback JESSE MOGG has been a staple, influential part of the Brumbies’ mix for the last three or four years and gives them multi-dimensional strengths. It would have been fascinating to see the Wallaby oppose emerging Bulls No 15 factor Jesse Kriel here; the latter lies second only to the Waratahs’ Israel Folau for metres gained (1070, according to the stats) this season but is carrying a niggle and curtailed to the bench for this one. So there’s a heavy onus on stand-in JURGEN VISSER – perhaps unfairly ridiculed in some circles, based on a costly prior clanger or two – no to weaken the tourists in the last line of defence.    

    Last result between sides: May 23, 2014: Bulls 44 Brumbies 23 (Pretoria)

    Rob Houwing’s prediction: Brumbies by seven points

    SA GAME 4

    SHARKS v REBELS, Durban

    When: Friday, 19:10

    Referee: Jaco van Heerden (SA)

    TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD

    SuperSport commentators: Matthew Pearce & Butch James (Eng), Gerrie Scheepers & Derick Hougaard (Afrik), Kaunda Ntunja & Makhaya Jack (Xho)

    Weather outlook: Clear, warm, light breeze

    Background: Do you share my growing (though not yet emphatic) belief that the Sharks have turned a bit of a corner? Certainly breaking a long losing sequence by grinding out a tour-ending triumph in Brisbane last Friday must have been a tonic of some substance; the 2015 corpse importantly keeps a pulse. While still hamstrung by a series of influential injuries, the current Sharks personnel are showing renewed resolve and even an overdue bit of panache, helped by the “discovery” of hitherto unsung players like 21-year-old scrumhalf Stefan Ungerer. It is a further annoyance that young lock Stephan Lewies has been ruled out on a long-term basis anew, meaning their second row goes back to a slightly long-in-the-tooth look for the Rebels game. The visitors’ commendable bid to crack the playoffs probably ended in Cape Town last week, and I feel a more pronounced burial will occur for them in the Shark Tank.

    Key head-to-head: The Rebels’ no-frills captain SCOTT HIGGINBOTHAM did his rugged best to get under the skin of another No 8 behemoth, Duane Vermeulen, at Newlands last weekend ... and succeeded to some degree. But this time he faces a slightly different challenge as the Sharks welcome back RYAN KANKOWSKI from injury. “Kanko” at his best gives the Durban-based side valuable balance in their loose trio, which is often dominated more by earthy, close-quarters characters. He is one player with the necessary pace off the mark and in open play, plus a possessor of good stepping and swerving skills, to add different options and enhance the Sharks’ attack.    

    Last result between sides: May 2, 2014: Rebels 16 Sharks 22 (Melbourne)  

    Rob Houwing’s prediction: Sharks by five points

    *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

    Read More On:  super 15 rugby

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