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    Why Sharks will derail Chiefs

    2012-04-19 11:00
    JP Pietersen (Gallo Images)
    Cape Town - Rob Houwing, in his South African Super Rugby Week 9 preview, riskily tips the Sharks to lift their game enough to end the Chiefs’ winning run.


    SHARKS v CHIEFS, Durban

    When: Saturday, 17:05
    Referee: Garratt Williamson (NZ)
    TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD

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

    It is broader South African interest, and not simply the Sharks’, that they crank up their erratic game enough on Saturday evening - back before their home faithful - to topple the currently machine-like Chiefs. Failure to do so will leave the log-leading Waikato side really well placed for an assault on securing a home final, as they would return from a trip to Australia and South Africa boasting a dream three wins from three. The danger for the Sharks is that they badly need a bye (it comes immediately afterwards) after their own demands abroad, and must find the gusto for one last big push ahead of it. Given their mid-table status and the need to win more regularly now, there’s got to be a fair chance they will. 

    Key head-to-head:
    There will be some good match-up right across the park, and if the Sharks (their team not finalised as this was written) continue with their recent policy of fielding Springbok wing JP PIETERSEN at outside centre, he will be facing an acid test in the shape of the Chiefs’ All Black stalwart RICHARD KAHUI, who was slippery against the Cheetahs last week, immediately opposite him. Both men ought to benefit from creative colleagues at “twelve”, with Kahui thriving on Sonny Bill Williams’ legendary offloads and Tim Whitehead looking more and more convincing there for the Sharks.

    Recent history:
    Last year, the Chiefs snapped a strong winning run by the Sharks from the start of the campaign, beating them 15-9 in New Zealand. They will also take to the Mr Price Kings Park turf knowing that they triumphed 19-18 in the last meeting there, in the very first round of the 2010 season. The Chiefs snatched that game at the death, with the hosts down to 14 men after a costly yellow card for Bismarck du Plessis in the 73rd minute. 

    Rob Houwing’s prediction:
    I admit that my tip is based more on the shaky grounds of gut feel than reality, given that the Chiefs looked marvellously slick in all areas for good parts of their success in Bloemfontein. But I just fancy that after six wins on the trot, they are probably ripe for a fall. Plus my expectation is for a fire-and-brimstone home team charge. Sharks by three, perhaps?  

    SA GAME 2

    REDS v STORMERS, Brisbane

    When: Friday, 11:40 SA time
    Referee: Steve Walsh (Aus)
    TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD

    Long-range weather forecast:
    Cloudy, mild, chance of rain, light breeze.

    For different reasons, each side has reached a fairly critical point. The Stormers have just experienced their first loss, although they never really had a huge tournament lead anyway because of a lack of bonus points, so suddenly others in the pack are within breathing distance of the team occupying joint second spot overall with compatriots the Bulls. They are thus under pressure not to quickly surrender another fixture. Meanwhile the defending champions are trying to regroup after a dreadful run until very recently: a home reverse here does their playoffs aspirations no good at all. Expect two hungry sides on the Suncorp Stadium paddock; something’s got to give ...

    Key head-to-head:
    There’s a demanding two-pronged aspect to DUANE VERMEULEN’S responsibilities in Brisbane; he’s been given the nod as acting leader while the team wrestles some injury woes to senior personnel, and management will clearly be hoping it doesn’t affect his ever-admirable work-rate and clattering commitment. Not only that, but up against him is the Reds’ tall-timber RADIKE SAMO, who will give Vermeulen stout opposition at the back of the lineout and seek to turn on the gas if he gets the chance to break away in open play.

    Recent history:
    Last year the Newlands meeting was pivotal in deciding who would finish top of the broad table – the Reds eventually clinched it by three points from the Stormers, who settled for second. And the Queenslanders prevailing 19-6 in Cape Town in early April, on a day when the home fires just wouldn’t burn properly, greatly helped the eventual champs’ cause. The Reds also won the last Brisbane clash – 16-13 in 2010.

    Rob Houwing’s prediction:
    I must admit that I am hugely tempted, considering the sudden injury upheaval in the touring Stormers camp, to tilt toward the Reds for this one. Every team in Super Rugby has a “dip” spell and I just wonder if the Capetonians – known for their energy-sapping tackle count -- haven’t started theirs. Mind you, the Reds are not yet back to their fullest complement, either (thinks Messrs Cooper, Ioane ...) so I’ll not very confidently suggest a precious Stormers win: by one point!

    SA GAME 3

    BULLS v BRUMBIES, Pretoria

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

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

    The Brumbies stay stoically the best-placed Aussie conference side. But do they really have championship pedigree? Many critics would simply maintain that their respected SA coach Jake White has got them punching spiritedly above their weight for the time being. Mind you, we’ll all sit up and take real notice if they knock over big guns the Bulls in their Loftus stronghold. The home side have recovered well from their narrow Newlands loss to draw level with the Stormers at the top of the domestic conference, and really ought to be clear favourites here.

    Key head-to-head:
    The strange little run of erratic place-kicking form by Bulls flyhalf MORNE STEYN may have caused some people to unfairly suggest his general game has slipped ... am I alone in believing the opposite is actually true? If his performance off the tee comes right on Saturday, he’ll be influential all-round against the Brumbies. Mind you, opposite number CHRISTIAN LEALIIFANO is in good touch – he starred in the 37-6 trouncing of the Rebels last weekend.

    Recent history:
    These teams didn’t lock horns in 2011, but the year before that they shared a wild and woolly 82 points at Loftus – though the Bulls eventually won comfortably enough 50-32. Mind you, the Brumbies had led 21-20 at the break before Steyn took charge to aid the big turnaround, his big personal points tally including two tries for the eventual champions.

    Rob Houwing’s prediction:
    It really should be a comfortable day at the Highveld office for the Bulls, who will presumably steer clear of complacency after being upset by another overseas team (the currently wretched Blues) earlier this season. Bulls by 10 ...

    *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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