Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town - Sport24 chief writer Rob Houwing, in the fifth of his regular South African-focused Super Rugby previews this year, fancies the Sharks to march to a fourth successive victory in Bloemfontein on Saturday.
An unfavourable outcome for hosts the Cheetahs - though they may grab a losing “BP” - is also anticipated by the rest of the Sport24 tipsters, as well as our weekly columnist Mark Keohane: he says the Sharks won’t be as bad “and won’t be as challenged” as they were in the great Durban escape against the Kings last weekend.
Elsewhere, the panel are also unanimous about the Lions raiding Port Elizabeth successfully, the Stormers doing the business in Singapore even with an experimental-looking XV ... and sadly the Bulls coming a cropper in their first New Zealand fixture.
*Rob picked the results of seven of last weekend’s eight games correctly on SuperBru, giving him a season record thus far of 25/34 (almost 74 percent).
SPORT24 PICK OF THE CROP
CHEETAHS v SHARKS, Bloemfontein
When: Saturday, 17:15
Referee: Jaco Peyper (SA)
SuperSport commentators: Owen Nkumane & Gcobani Bobo (Eng), Christo Olivier & Toks van der Linde (Afrik), Kaunda Ntunja & Kaya Malotana (Xho)
Weather outlook: Fine, mild, light breeze
Background: Could the Sharks possibly be as laborious and devoid of imagination as they were in the unexpectedly nail-biting home triumph (that word is used reluctantly) over the Kings? You have to suspect the answer is no, and with the between-games admonishment of coach Robert du Preez probably ringing in their ears, the Sharks will come out smoking here. They have put out much closer to an orthodox “first team”, too. That said, the same applies to the Cheetahs, who gave some of their bigger names little or no game-time in a near-inevitable Buenos Aires walloping from the Jaguares. While the hosts will be very happy to have Bok centre Francois Venter back as skipper, the Sharks have also positively redressed backline shortcomings by asking the twinkle-toed Curwin Bosch to call the shots at No 10. They will be looking for a morale-stiffening performance ahead of their April Fools’ Day humdinger in the Big Smoke against the Lions … and my gut feel is they’ll deliver it.
Key head-to-head: Former Baby Bok Junior World Championship 2012 winner RUAN BOTHA has been putting himself about assertively in the Sharks’ second row this season, and his almost freakish 2.06m frame should be a vital component again in their plans to down the Cheetahs on the road. But the Brakpan-born ex-Stormers staffer won’t automatically have things all his own way against the hosts’ seasoned (30-year-old) No 5 FRANCOIS UYS, a veteran of at least eight years of Super Rugby for the central franchise. Uys will concede a fair bit in height to his opposite number at line-out time, but tends to make good calls in the department and will still expect to bank his own ball from Torsten van Jaarsveld’s throw-ins …
Last result between sides: July 9, 2016: Sharks 26 Cheetahs 10 (Durban)
Sport24 staff predictions: Rob Houwing: Sharks by four; Garrin Lambley: Sharks by one; Herman Mostert: Sharks by three; Lloyd Burnard: Sharks by eight.
SA GAME 2
KINGS v LIONS, Port Elizabeth
When: Saturday, 15:05
Referee: Quinton Immelman (SA)
SuperSport commentators: Matthew Pearce & Robbie Kempson (Eng), Gerrie Scheepers & Gary Boshoff (Afrik), Alfred Mzizi & Makhaya Jack (Xho)
Weather outlook: Partly cloudy, cool, light breeze
Background: The Kings put in such a monstrous, defence-geared shift against the Sharks in so nearly upsetting the Durban faithful that you wonder how much gas is really left in the tank for the visit of the cerebral, fast-paced Lions. Johan Ackermann will have made spirited notes about the spoiling, rhythm-upsetting formula employed by the Kings last Saturday, and no doubt worked hard to develop counters for a possible repeat from the firm underdogs. For the Kings to have any chance, you fancy they will not have to allow the visitors to get too far ahead too quickly. But the Lions are scoring tries pretty comfortably, and should boss this meeting by a suitably wide margin – none of us envisage the Kings getting within even 15 points of them on the final scoreboard. The Kings, as usual, will look to Chris Cloete to be a perpetual breakdown nuisance, but if Jaco Kriel shines there for the Lions, he will advance his Bok 2017 claims.
Key head-to-head: He has five tries in the 2017 competition already, and will be additionally motivated by the knowledge that he got a pair in last year’s Emirates Airline Park romp against the same Kings foes. I speak, of course, of ROHAN JANSE VAN RENSBURG, the chunky stick of dynamite in the Lions’ midfield who has also been no slouch at off-loading key final passes for try-dotting team-mates. As things stand, he is a hot fancy to start at No 12 for the Springboks in midyear. Still, he finds a strong physical match at inside centre, at least, on Saturday afternoon in the home side’s 105kg journeyman WAYLON MURRAY – something of a “forgotten Bok” considering that his last of three Test appearances was almost 10 years ago against New Zealand in Christchurch.
Last result between sides: July 8, 2016: Lions 57 Kings 21 (Johannesburg)
Sport24 staff predictions: Rob Houwing: Lions by 22; Garrin Lambley: Lions by 20; Herman Mostert: Lions by 25; Lloyd Burnard: Lions by 15.
SA GAME 3
BLUES v BULLS, Albany
When: Saturday, 08:35
Referee: Nicholas Berry (Aus)
SuperSport commentators: NZ panel
Weather outlook: Cloudy, mild, light breeze
Background: If the Bulls had a better reputation for enjoying touring abroad, you’d be more inclined to give them a healthy chance of knocking over the Blues, arguably still the lowliest New Zealand combo. But the three-time past champions just seem to have been lacking collective mongrel even on SA soil thus far, and were woeful and infuriatingly sloppy at times in a laboured Loftus win against the Sunwolves last Friday. The Blues will have noted their opponents’ ongoing scrum woes, but if the Highvelders can smarten their set-piece act in Albany, it will give them so much better a stab at a much-needed further victory. I will say this: if there’s sufficient good ball on offer from the Bulls eight, their back division for this one boasts healthy X-factor. That will be especially evident if Handre Pollard finally snaps out of his early-season sluggishness at No 10.
Key head-to-head: Bulls coach Nollis Marais has been finding it hard to decide between LIZO GQOBOKA and Pierre Schoeman at loosehead prop this season, but the former gets an inviting chance to nail down the No 1 jersey if he can excel in the first NZ tour match. The 26-year-old from Mount Frere in the Eastern Cape usually has some fire in his belly … and he may need it against a juggernaut enemy at scrum-time. The tighthead he grapples with is the Blues’ bearded CHARLIE FAUMUINA, that 126kg gnarly All Black with a deceptive burst of speed and even the odd cheeky step when he’s carrying. Mind you, Gqoboka is no slouch with ball in hand, either.
Last result between sides: May 15, 2015: Blues 23 Bulls 18 (Auckland)
Sport24 staff predictions: Rob Houwing: Blues by 11; Garrin Lambley: Blues by six; Herman Mostert: Blues by seven; Lloyd Burnard: Blues by 10.
SA GAME 4
SUNWOLVES v STORMERS, Singapore
When: Saturday, 12:55
Referee: Federico Anselmi (Arg)
SuperSport commentators: Provided
Weather outlook: Partly cloudy, warm, light breeze
Background: While still believing deep down that their favourites will win (maybe with a fair bit to spare), Stormers fans are entitled to also feel just a little nervous about this one. Remember Singapore last season? Well, the unusually complacent Capetonians were very lucky to escape with a late-earned draw on that occasion … and that with a more experienced starting combo on paper than they sport this time. Just for example, absent this time will be surnames like Malherbe, Du Toit, Ntubeni, Carr, De Allende, De Jongh and Kolbe. Combined with a rash of injuries, the Stormers are riskily resting several other fit customers at the same time this weekend, so the Japanese side may feel they have a puncher’s chance against some callow faces in the Stormers ranks. Nevertheless, Robbie Fleck and company proudly back their “kids” and there should be no repeat of last year’s lethargy in the tropical city-state. They are still capable of making this one blow out a bit.
Key head-to-head: He started at fullback for the Sunwolves in their tigerish display at Loftus in the last round, but now the versatile, smart-running SHOTA EMI switches to right wing for the challenge of the Stormers in a much-reshuffled backline. What that also means is the 25-year-old must mark that blistering icon of Sevens rugby SEABELO SENATLA, running out in the starting XV for the Stormers for the first time this season. His franchise are stretched in the outside-backs department through injury, so Senatla quickly emulating his lethal attacking qualities in the shorter format would be a big plus to the Newlands-based side. Senatla should also bolster defensive plans; he is no shrinking violet in the tackle.
Last result between sides: May 14, 2016: Sunwolves 17 Stormers 17 (Singapore)
Sport24 staff predictions: Rob Houwing: Stormers by 12; Garrin Lambley: Stormers by 25; Herman Mostert: Stormers by eight; Lloyd Burnard: Stormers by 20.
*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing