Why Sharks will repel Rebels
Jake White (Gallo Images)
Cape Town – Sport24 chief writer Rob Houwing, in his regular South African-geared Super Rugby preview, believes the Sharks will realise the importance of a good tour start ... and act accordingly to down the moderate Melbourne Rebels on Friday.
He also tips very tight home wins for the Bulls and Stormers on Saturday, but fears a relative drubbing for the Lions at the Hamilton home of defending champions the Chiefs, who are due a rousing performance.
SPORT24 PICK OF THE CROP
REBELS v SHARKS, Melbourne
When: Friday, 11:40 SA time
Referee: Andrew Lees (Aus)
TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD
SuperSport commentators: Australian panel
Weather outlook: Cool, chance of rain, moderate wind
Background: Well, for the fickle Rebels to knock over the table-topping Sharks, it is going to require a turnaround of some substance, when you consider that the Aussie combo were slaughtered by a 57-point margin in Durban last year. The Sharks registered 10 tries that day, and while they probably won’t come close to that tally in the more challenging environment of AAMI Park, I do believe Jake White’s charges got the jolt they needed in that horrible home loss to the Highlanders. Urgency will take over anew, by my reckoning, as Bismarck du Plessis and company will be only too aware that a first-up loss abroad could infect serious jitters into their ranks for the remainder of the Antipodean trek. Defence is not a special strongpoint of the reasonably “mercenary” home franchise, so a win with a bonus point is not beyond the Sharks ... even if they will be mightily relieved simply to register the first South African success away from our shores in 13 harrowing attempts this year. The Rebels look a tad lightweight in their front row: time for the Beast and his Springbok pals alongside him to take an iron grip!
Key head-to-head: Hmm: when you look at the Rebels side, with respect, it is difficult in several positions to get truly enthusiastic about the personnel employed. If anything, it only increases the pressure on the Bok-laden Sharks not to botch this one. But with Frans Steyn shifted to flyhalf, suddenly PAUL JORDAAN at No 13 looks the “senior” visitors’ midfielder (he’s partnered by Heimar Williams). Not necessarily aiding the weight of responsibility on his shoulders is that his opposite number will be 31-year-old, occasional All Black TAMATI ELLISON, a hardy veteran of nine years of Super Rugby service at some four franchises.
Last result between sides: March 23, 2013: Sharks 64 Rebels 7 (Durban)
Rob Houwing’s prediction: Sharks by nine points
SA GAME 2
BULLS v CHEETAHS, Pretoria
When: Saturday, 17:05
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen (SA)
TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD
SuperSport commentators: Owen Nkumane and Joel Stransky (Eng), John van Rensburg and Werner Swanepoel (Afrik), Kaunda Ntunja and Makhaya Jack (Xho)
Weather outlook: Warm, clear, light breeze
Background: Bulls coach Frans Ludeke seems to have conceded that his three-time champions need to be a little less predictable from here on in, if they are to somehow get a barnstorming “home run” together and possibly even haul in the Sharks (unlikely though that is) for the SA conference spoils. As well as installing the rookie William Small-Smith at centre, Handre Pollard’s maiden start – see more on that below – in the key No 10 shirt also freshens the mix considerably. Away wins don’t come easily at Loftus, so my fancy is the Bulls to sneak the derby, despite the Cheetahs’ rousing victory over the Stormers last weekend. Mind you the visitors, who are seeking the double over these foes in 2014, will not lack self-belief and I expect Heinrich Brussow to extend the Bulls’ angst at the breakdown. The nuggety flank has also been superb in linking play of late. There’ll be some customary sparkle for the Cheetahs ... but it’s Bulls to batter their way to a morale-boosting, overdue triumph!
Key head-to-head: As already mentioned, former SA Junior World Championship star POLLARD brings an exciting new dimension to the Bulls brew. He showed on the problematic tour, with some cameos off the bench, that he is prepared to attack the advantage line and use his stepping and swerving skills. Make no mistake, Jacques-Louis Potgieter (who is on the bench this week) has been a yeoman servant in recent games but he probably needed a mental break and Pollard must make the most of this opportunity to show off his ability to broadly boss a game. Up against him will be another creative character in the shape of ELGAR WATTS. What they have in common on Saturday is knowledge that the flyhalf back-up among the reserves – in his case Johan Goosen – is hardly a slouch himself, so making their starting XV appearance count is a clear-cut objective in each instance.
Last result between sides: February 21 2014: Cheetahs 15 Bulls 9 (Bloemfontein)
Rob Houwing’s prediction: Bulls by four points
SA GAME 3
CHIEFS v LIONS, Hamilton
When: Saturday, 09:35 SA time
Referee: Chris Pollock (NZ)
TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD
SuperSport commentators: New Zealand panel
Weather outlook: Clear, cool, near windless
Background: Anyone remember the Lions’ overseas leg in 2011, the maiden season of the conference system? Amazingly, they got their only two wins of the entire ordinary season in foreign climes: they saw off the Brumbies 29-20 in Canberra, and later the Highlanders 26-22 when they shifted to the Land of the Long White Cloud. But a year later they were back to nought-from-four abroad, and with a far less tour-wise squad this time around, it is difficult to see them being any more productive in 2014. Perhaps the Chiefs’ only drawback here may be complacency ... but that should be absent anyway as their recent form has been surprisingly ordinary and they are desperate to take fresh charge of the NZ conference. The champions may well run away with this one, especially if they cross the whitewash a couple of times early on.
Key head-to-head: The hard-working and assertive FRANCO MOSTERT, even if no monster presence physically in the second row, epitomises the team “gees” in the Lions’ low-on-star-factor ranks. If the Chiefs are to somehow be upset in their own stronghold, how well he keeps a lid on rugged All Black BRODIE RETALLICK – taller, and also at least 15kg heavier – in the No 5 lock battle could be pivotal. The Chiefs enforcer, after all, proved recently that even with his shirt unceremoniously pulled off him, he’ll just keep on surging forward for the cause with a mean, sullen look on his face. But if anyone’s up for a tough challenge, it’s the guy who hails from the no-frills Northern Free State ...
Last result between sides: May 5 2012: Chiefs 34 Lions 21 (Pukekohe)
Rob Houwing’s prediction: Chiefs by 32 points
SA GAME 4
STORMERS v HIGHLANDERS, Cape Town
When: Saturday, 15:00
Referee: Craig Joubert (SA)
TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD
SuperSport commentators: Matthew Pearce and Gcobani Bobo (Eng), Hennie Koortzen and Breyton Paulse (Afrik), Lonwabo Mtimka and Mzwandile Stick (Xho)
Weather outlook: Partly cloudy, mild, light breeze
Background: Sooner or later, you have to suspect that the “big union” Stormers will finally get it right and thump a significantly higher-riding team. Might it happen this weekend? Considering the Highlanders’ majestic showing in Durban, “thump” may be a little optimistic, but a hunch tells me Jean de Villiers and company will provide some necessary good cheer at Newlands in a rare, old-style afternoon kick-off slot by nicking this one. They remain vulnerable in certain areas, most particularly in the tight five by my book, where the shortage of seasoned lock stocks is all too apparent and overused young props Steven Kitshoff and Frans Malherbe aren’t progressing quite as well as anticipated a year or so ago: when last did you see a genuinely destructive scrummaging performance from either? But Scarra Ntubeni is back at hooker to potentially give the lineout a bit of extra stability, and ever-frantic Schalk Burger’s return to the starting line-up should also be a tonic to the pack as a whole. Hope springs eternal in the shadow of Table Mountain ...
Key head-to-head: As stated on Sport24 earlier in the week, the maiden Newlands appearance of Highlanders’ midfield wunderkind MALAKAI FEKITOA (just his surname sounds ominously like a volcano on the point of eruption) will create some extra interest in this one. His direct marker, of course, will be a pretty street-wise character in the shape of gritty Springbok JUAN DE JONGH, who tackles in the good, old-fashioned around-the-legs way and won’t be put off by the concession he’ll make in bulk terms. In fact, De Jongh may well intend to provide Fekitoa with a dose of his own medicine by being inventive and mercurial with ball in hand if even a half-gap presents itself ...
Last result between sides: April 7 2012: Highlanders 6 Stormers 21 (Dunedin)
Rob Houwing’s prediction: Stormers by two points
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