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Why Stormers will trip Sharks
Stormers coach Allister Coetzee (File)
Cape Town - Rob Houwing believes the Stormers will extend the uneasy start to the season for the injury-hit Sharks at Newlands.SPORT24 PICK OF THE CROPSTORMERS v SHARKS, Newlands
When: Saturday, 19:10
Referee: Mark Lawrence
TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD
Long-range weather forecast: Mild, gentle breeze, chance of sprinkles.Background:
The Stormers - not the least astute of teams, it must be said - will know full well that if they play as patchily as they did against the Hurricanes in their opening fixture, they will lose this traditionally uncompromising derby to the currently weakened but potentially still dangerous Sharks. Yet they will also know that they had these opponents’ number last season, winning both conference clashes, and most smart money is being placed on the home-town victory. That said, a successful raid by the wily Sharks would hardly count as a rank upset! But I fancy the Stormers’ big strengths, an excellent lineout and - often related - rolling maul to tilt the balance on Saturday night.
JP Pietersen will continue his intriguing new role at outside centre ... and this ever-slippery game-breaker will come directly up against another Springbok in Juan de Jongh, fit again after missing round one through injury. The latter is a tenacious tackler, whilst no slouch as an elusive attacking factor himself, so the Stormers may well feel that their midfield will be more cohesive (and adhesive) than it was in the woolly old game against the ‘Canes. Recent history:
The equivalent game in 2011 came in the second half of the conference season and the Stormers only tightened their grip on the group with a thumping 32-12 triumph. The Sharks were almost embarrassingly porous through the “middle” that day, as they conceded four tries, and Jean de Villiers and company cashed in gleefully as a result. Four Pat Lambie penalties was the sorry sum of their own efforts ... Rob Houwing’s prediction:
Fierce resistance from the Sharks, rueing the absence of some essential bruisers, but Stormers by four pointsSA GAME 2CHEETAHS v BULLS, Bloemfontein
When: Saturday, 17:05
Referee: Craig Joubert
TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD
Long-range weather forecast: Warm and windlessBackground:
It’s pressure time for the Cheetahs after their first-round loss in Johannesburg last weekend, and they do tend to lift their game in “Bloem” when the Bulls come to town. Still, the Bulls’ own success in knocking over the Sharks suggests that even the disadvantage of being away will not necessarily jeopardise their quest to maintain unbeaten form. If the visiting pack plays with the earthy commitment they showed at Loftus, and Juandre Kruger has remembered to pack his impressive lineout “springs” again, they ought to be in business. Just as the Sharks missed some hefty customers against the Bulls last weekend, the Cheetahs may rue here not having big Coenie Oosthuizen quite ready yet to match fire with customary fire in the boiler room.Key head-to-head:
Somehow flyhalves keep entering the equation in this category in 2012! But you have to admit, it’s hard to overlook the duel between the No 10s, youthful phenomenon Johan Goosen of the Cheetahs and Springbok incumbent Morne Steyn. Both started the season pretty impressively last weekend, even if in the case of the booming-booted Goosen he ended up narrowly on the losing side against the Lions. The easier ride, of course, is likely to go to the man more consistently on the front foot as a result of pack dominance, so my tip is Steyn to pull plenty of tactical strings. He could have the edge in short- to medium-range success off the tee, although Goosen will always be willing to have a crack from 62m!
There’s nobody left of the Bulls’ try-scorers when they pipped these opponents 25-23 in the corresponding game in the Free State metropolis last season – Bakkies Botha, Danie Rossouw and Fourie du Preez! Coincidentally, that was also a second-round affair. The Cheetahs had stormed into a 23-8 lead at one point, but the wily champions came progressively back into the picture to snatch it, in a match sadly marred by the early exit of home favourite Juan Smith to a snapped Achilles tendon – it is the injury he is still in slow rehab from.
Rob Houwing’s prediction: Bulls by eight pointsSA GAME 3LIONS v HURRICANES, Ellis Park
When: Friday, 19:10
Referee: Steve Walsh
TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD
Long-range weather forecast: Warm, gentle breeze
Traditional strugglers the Lions will be delighted to have opened their campaign with a derby win against the Cheetahs at the same venue last weekend (even if it ended up being an Elton Jantjies-orchestrated kick-fest in scoreboard terms) and doubtless sniff another victory opportunity against the vulnerable ‘Canes on the highveld. How the visiting side will feel after their scrappy Newlands reverse is hard to gauge; they were rank awful and obstructive at times in their desperation to stop the rumbling Stormers pack, but will also take heart, I guess, from the remarkable fact that at times they looked like pilfering a most unlikely triumph! But it should be two from two for the Currie Cup champions if they’re properly up for it. Key head-to-head:
There should be a great scrap between each side’s most “senior” loose forward: respectively Josh Strauss, the Lions captain, and the Hurricanes’ All Black-capped Victor Vito. Strauss has been shifted back to the side of the scrum after playing at No 8 against the Cheetahs, to accommodate Warren Whiteley, and how he compares to the similarly versatile Vito for work-rate and determined driving play could be an important influencer - both men offer forceful physical dimensions, tipping the scales above the 110kg mark.
When they met in Wellington last season, in the second-last round of conference play, the Lions were ending their four-match overseas tour, and with two excellent, unexpected wins already beneath their belts (against the Brumbies and Highlanders) found this occasion a bridge too far despite another gritty display in a 38-27 defeat. Sadly for the Lions, they simply ran out of steam – the old “one foot on the plane” syndrome -- after having opening up a 20-8 lead at one stage.Rob Houwing’s prediction: Lions by three points