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    Lions will find it just too tough

    2016-07-15 11:46

    Rob Houwing - Sport24 Chief Writer

    Cape Town - Sport24 chief writer Rob Houwing, in the next of his regular South African-focused Vodacom Super Rugby previews this year, suspects that the much-debated, greatly weakened Lions will sacrifice top-place finish overall by not being able to down the Jaguares in often hostile Buenos Aires.

    But they will probably not disgrace and might end within seven points of the hosts on the scoreboard; one of the Sport24 rugby pundits is even prepared to brave a prediction of a gritty Lions triumph.

    Meanwhile Rob and all the others fully expect the Sharks – even still minus some vital elements – to complete their own quarter-finals qualification job by comfortably beating the Sunwolves, strugglers on the road all season, at Kings Park.

    While that result would automatically leave the Bulls licking their wounds for missing the cut, he nevertheless expects them to keep their chins up to just pip the Cheetahs in the Bloemfontein derby, whilst the Stormers will bag a routine late-season victory over the Kings in another rather low-stakes affair.

    *Rob currently lies 7 623rd out of around 196 000 Super Rugby tipsters on SuperBru, with a win success rate of 77%.


    JAGUARES v LIONS, Buenos Aires

    When: Saturday, 23:40

    Referee: Rohan Hoffmann (Aus)

    TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD

    SuperSport commentators (from SA studio): Hugh Bladen & Breyton Paulse (Eng), Ockert van Schalkwyk & Werner Swanepoel (Afrik), Kaya Malotana & Tiger Mangweni (Xho)

    Weather outlook: Partly cloudy, chilly, moderate wind

    Background: My dissenting views on Johan Ackermann’s decision to go quite so significantly second-string in the overall log-leaders’ pivotal final game of the ordinary-season roster are well documented and I won’t bore you with repetition. But quite obviously the Lions, instead of being reasonably considered the pre-match slight favourites, have suddenly turned underdogs. And yes, that is despite the Jaguares being minus their belligerent pack figurehead Agustin Creevy. There is still a chance that the much-rejigged Lions could spring a surprise – heaps of their extended squad have looked zesty and constructive when called upon for cameos this year – but I am not prepared to call that, personally. Buenos Aires is a devilishly tricky place for foreign sides to prosper in, even when at fullest strength. At the very least, hopefully we get a very gutsy demonstration of the depth that is beginning to take root at Ellis Park.   

    Key head-to-head: I am looking forward to seeing a start at fullback for the Lions by SYLVIAN MAHUZA, the 22-year-old utility attacker who has looked both speedy and enterprising in appearances off the bench this season; he could be one of the relatively unknown factors in their midst capable of surprising the Jaguares. Still, his opposite number is an altogether more seasoned customer: JOAQUIN TUCULET boasts 31 Test caps for Argentina and is also capable of slotting seamlessly into other backline positions when necessary.

    Last result between sides: May 21, 2016: Lions 52 Jaguares 24 (Johannesburg)

    Sport24 predictions: Rob Houwing: Jaguares by seven; Garrin Lambley: Jaguares by 11; Herman Mostert: Jaguares by three; Lloyd Burnard: Lions by four.

    SA GAME 2


    When: Friday, 19:00

    Referee: Rasta Rasivhenge (SA)

    TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD

    SuperSport commentators:  Andy Capostagno & Stefan Terblanche (Eng), Christo Olivier & Werner Swanepoel (Afrik), Kaunda Ntunja & Kaya Malotana (Xho)

    Weather outlook: Clear, mild, light breeze

    Background: Please don’t read into this any petty vendetta against the Bulls, which completely absent, but I do hope the Sharks book their quarter-final ticket (sadly it would have to be at their expense) by downing the Japanese outfit. The Durban-based side deserve to crack the playoffs, given how utterly horrible their itinerary was this season, whilst injuries to senior personnel along the way haven’t helped at all. And what price the wildcard qualification drama extending to Saturday? It is mightily hard to envisage that happening; the Sunwolves have been largely wretched on South African soil so far, and I expect the trend to continue in this floodlit affair. There is some rotation by the hosts, but starts for Ruan Botha at lock and Chiliboy Ralepelle at hooker, for example, hardly disrupt their mojo …   

    Key head-to-head: Sharks mastermind Gary Gold has been prepared to dish out certain surprises in his captaincy choices at the franchise … and I’d say he’s done the same again by opting for veteran JP PIETERSEN as acting leader this week ahead of someone like Keegan Daniel. (As far as I am aware, it is Pietersen’s first experience of the “armband” at any level?) Still, he brings rugby wisdom by the bag-load, and ought to be strongly motivated personally to drag out his lengthy Sharks career by a few more weeks if he can. Up against Pietersen at outside centre is the Sunwolves’ DEREK CARPENTER, New Zealand-born and certainly no shrinking violet in the contact stakes.

    Last result between sides: No prior meetings

    Sport24 predictions: Rob Houwing: Sharks by 28; Garrin Lambley: Sharks by 36; Herman Mostert: Sharks by 30; Lloyd Burnard: Sharks by 44.

    SA GAME 3

    STORMERS v KINGS, Cape Town

    When: Saturday, 17:05

    Referee: Jaco Peyper (SA)

    TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD

    SuperSport commentators: Matthew Pearce & Kobus Wiese (Eng), Gerrie Scheepers & Jonathan Mokuena (Afrik), Alfred Mzizi & Lungelo Payi (Xho)  

    Weather outlook: Clear, cool, moderate breeze

    Background: I got the impression from Robbie Fleck’s Stormers press briefing on Thursday that he will certainly not take kindly to a sloppy home display from his heavily-tipped charges against the weak Kings; he is too aware of the importance of sharpening, rather than slackening, for their first encounter of 2016 with any NZ opposition in the quarter-final next weekend. While both senior locks and absolutely fulcrum pack members – Messrs Etzebeth and Du Toit – sit out this one, the side he has put out still looks very decent indeed on paper. It’s pleasing that abrasive Rynhardt Elstadt, for example, earns a start at blindside flank after some industrious displays off the bench in recent weeks. There’s more than enough firepower to win by a distance, once the plucky Kings slowly lose their defensive determination and shape through likely, mounting fatigue in reverse gear.

    Key head-to-head: Veteran Kings skipper and always admirable tight-five combatant STEVEN SYKES brings the curtain down on his four-year career with the often troubled franchise from his province of birth in this derby against fellow-coastal foes. He should get a good tussle against the Stormers man in the No 4 jersey, JEAN KLEYN, who previously kicked his heels for several frustrating months with a wrist injury. Sadly for the Capetonians, the rugged youngster is reportedly to further his career soon a long way from Newlands, with Munster in Ireland, so this may be his swansong also, as Springbok Eben Etzebeth returns to the shirt for the playoffs after a break this Saturday.

    Last result between sides: July 6, 2013: Kings 12 Stormers 24 (Port Elizabeth)

    Sport24 predictions: Rob Houwing: Stormers by 24; Garrin Lambley: Stormers by 32; Herman Mostert: Stormers by 25; Lloyd Burnard: Stormers by 44.

    SA GAME 4

    CHEETAHS v BULLS, Bloemfontein

    When: Saturday, 19:15

    Referee: Craig Joubert (SA)

    TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD

    SuperSport commentators: Owen Nkumane & AJ Venter (Eng), Christo Olivier & Toks van der Linde (Afrik), Kaunda Ntunja & Makhaya Jack (Xho)

    Weather outlook: Partly cloudy, cool, near-windless

    Background: Unless there is a (frankly appalling!) shock in store the night ahead of it in Durban, this game is regrettably going to struggle for its more customary fizz. The Bulls may well be that bit more vulnerable to defeat by the Cheetahs – who got some rough calls in their defeat to the Sharks last Saturday – if their playoffs hopes have already been squashed. Still, I was pretty impressed by their focus against the Sunwolves at Loftus last time out, so they may not be too infected by depression and attached lethargy. It could be extremely close, but all four Sport24 forecasters nevertheless fancy the visitors to leave Bloemfontein victorious.    

    Key head-to-head: Eighth-man PAUL SCHOEMAN is one of those characters renowned for putting in bruising, no-nonsense shifts for the Cheetahs this year, and he should be fired-up to retain customary service against old Highveld rivals the Bulls. The Cradock-born player, 23, will know that physical commitment will be imperative as his direct rival for the Bulls is Namibia and former Sharks star RENALDO BOTHMA, who signed earlier this season a little out of the blue – no pun intended – at Loftus. Bothma also believes in reasonably direct routes forward, and enjoys making the odd clattering hit …

    Last result between sides: April 2, 2016: Bulls 23 Cheetahs 18 (Pretoria)

    Sport24 predictions: Rob Houwing: Bulls by four; Garrin Lambley: Bulls by six; Herman Mostert: Bulls by three; Lloyd Burnard: Bulls by 10.

    *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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