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    Pack grunt to seal it for Stormers

    2016-02-26 10:22

    Cape Town – Sport24 chief writer Rob Houwing, in round one of his regular South African-focused Super Rugby previews this year, fancies the Stormers to rumble their way to a derby victory over the rebuilding Bulls at Newlands.

    The Sharks, meanwhile, should overpower the Kings by a wider margin in Port Elizabeth.

    He backs the Lions to prevail in their Tokyo baptism against the Sunwolves, but reluctantly envisages the scrum-proficient Jaguares edging a tight encounter with the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein.


    STORMERS v BULLS, Cape Town

    When: Saturday, 17:15

    Referee: Craig Joubert (SA)

    TV: M-Net, SS1

    SuperSport commentators: Matthew Pearce & Bob Skinstad (Eng), John van Rensburg & Kobus Wiese (Afrik), Kaya Malotana & Lungelo Payi (Xho)

    Weather outlook: Clear, mild, fresh wind

    Background: Nollis Marais will have done outstandingly well if he can steer this young, much-revamped Bulls side to the quarter-finals in his first season at the helm. It just seems so unusual to see a Loftus-based team coming to Cape Town for a derby minus such once-household names as Victor Matfield, Flip van der Merwe and Pierre Spies. Of course the Stormers have also waved goodbye to certain steely old hands like Duane Vermeulen and Steven Kitshoff ... but I strongly feel there’s enough left in their all-important engine room to starve the Bulls of quality possession and triumph, even if it isn’t a pretty encounter. Whether the sprightly outside backs in each team get room to express themselves may well depend on the creative levels mustered by the not-hugely-touted flyhalves, the visitors’ workmanlike Francois Brummer and erratic young Stormers No 10 Robert du Preez. But the Stormers should win ... perhaps with a bit to spare? 

    Key head-to-head: With both teams supposedly intent on a greater excitement factor this year, a fairly obvious potential crowd-pleaser to me is the scrap between two bamboozling, fleet-footed fullbacks: gutsy little hometown favourite CHESLIN KOLBE and the Bulls’ emerging WARRICK GELANT who showed many defenders a clean pair of heels in last season’s Currie Cup and could make his big Super Rugby break this year. Both men are capable of either making space where it barely seems possible, or exploiting it lethally where it already exists. Things may happen in a blur ...  

    Last result between sides: April 25, 2015: Stormers 15 Bulls 13 (Cape Town)

    Sport24 predictions: Rob Houwing: Stormers by eight points; Garrin Lambley: Stormers by five points; Herman Mostert: Stormers by five points; Lloyd Burnard: Stormers by four points.

    SA GAME 2

    KINGS v SHARKS, Port Elizabeth

    When: Saturday, 15:05

    Referee: Jaco van Heerden (SA)

    TV: M-Net, SS1

    SuperSport commentators: Owen Nkumane & Joel Stransky (Eng), Gerrie Scheepers & Toks van der Linde (Afrik), Kaunda Ntunja & Makhaya Jack (Xho)

    Weather outlook: Partly cloudy, mild, gentle breeze

    Background: Somehow the beleaguered, cash-strapped Kings have cobbled together a squad from far and wide for their second season -- but first since 2013 -- in Super Rugby. Only this time, there is no astute, proven Alan Solomons to maximise their abilities from the coaching berth, and the vast majority of their brave campaigners from three years ago have flown the coop. (They will pin their flimsy hopes pretty heavily on survivors like “Vleis” Engelbrecht, Shane Gates and skipper Steven Sykes ... the last-named player a former Sharks stalwart.) The visitors, fresh off a constructive pre-season in France, already look a more harmonious, focussed and energised group than they did in 2015, and must be heavily tipped to romp to victory even as they still lack a few crocked big guns. 

    Key head-to-head: Not exactly heaving with specialist open-side flankers, were WP short-sighted in letting CHRIS CLOETE go? The East London-born journeyman – he has also had a stint with the Sharks -- had looked a livewire at times in last season’s Currie Cup. But the Kings have benefited from his arrival in PE, and on Saturday Cloete faces one of his stiffest rugby challenges yet: competing as a fetcher with the Sharks’ Springbok dynamo MARCELL COETZEE, who is beginning his swansong campaign for them.

    Last result between sides: July 13, 2013: Sharks 58 Kings 13 (Durban)

    Sport24 predictions: Rob Houwing: Sharks by 19 points; Garrin Lambley: Sharks by 12 points; Herman Mostert: Sharks by 15 points; Lloyd Burnard: Sharks by 12 points.

    SA GAME 3

    CHEETAHS v JAGUARES, Bloemfontein

    When: Friday, 19:00

    Referee: Stuart Berry (SA)

    TV: M-Net, SS1

    SuperSport commentators: Warren Brosnihan & Gcobani Bobo (Eng), Hennie Koortzen & Werner Swanepoel (Afrik), Alfred Mzizi & Kaya Malotana (Xho)

    Weather outlook: Partly cloudy, warm, gentle breeze

    Background: What to make of the debutant Jaguares? The Argentinean outfit, featuring many gnarly Test customers, lost quite badly to the Stormers in pre-season but then bounced back to trounce an experimental Lions combo. Their maiden Super Rugby appearances in Bloemfontein could go either way, but considering the strong scrumming ethic of South American packs, they’ll cash in on Cheetahs vulnerability in that department (remember there’s no more Coenie Oosthuizen ballast to call on). Expect the hosts also to feel the effects of Heinrich Brussow’s departure from scavenging and linking duties, although Boom Prinsloo will put in a very honest shift. Some bookies have the Jaguares winning by a significant margin; I prefer to think it will go to the wire. If that is the case, altitude could just work in favour of the Cheetahs, though I can’t quite bring myself to back them.

    Key head-to-head: They last locked horns in the playoff for third place at RWC 2015, and now LOOD DE JAGER, the biggest name left on the reasonably impoverished Cheetahs’ books, runs into fellow-No 5 beanpole and similarly 23-year-old TOMAS LAVANINI again. Both are very much part of the respective Springbok and Pumas furniture these days. De Jager had last laugh at the Olympic Stadium, when SA won World Cup bronze in a 24-13 outcome; Lavanini will fancy his chance here to exact some measure of revenge. 

    Last result between sides: No previous meetings

    Sport24 predictions: Rob Houwing: Jaguares by five points; Garrin Lambley: Jaguares by five points; Herman Mostert: Jaguares by seven points; Lloyd Burnard: Cheetahs by four points.

    SA GAME 4


    When: Saturday, 06:15

    Referee: Ben O’Keeffe (NZ)

    TV: M-Net, SS1

    SuperSport commentators: TBC (Eng), John van Rensburg & Jaco van der Westhuyzen (Afrik), Lonwabo Mtimka & Sindile Mayende (Xho)

    Weather outlook: Partly cloudy, chilly, light breeze

    Background: Lions coach Johan Ackermann will have had a harder task than most Super Rugby counterparts in gathering intelligence on their first opponents. The start-out Japanese outfit, featuring a mix of home-based players and some cosmopolitan, almost BaaBaas-like personnel, if you like, are widely anticipated to struggle. If that holds true, then the Lions (Currie Cup champions and SA’s second best Super Rugby side last year) must cash in here, because their next two fixtures are real toughies in New Zealand – nobody wants to go a dispiriting 0/3 early in the year. But the Lions have decent X-factor between jerseys 6-10, especially, and a renowned “gees” that is worth a few points on its own.  

    Key head-to-head: He may have been politely urged to cover up his tattoos for this maiden Super Rugby fixture in Japan, but ELTON JANTJIES won’t wish to leave too much more under wraps in a first opportunity in 2016 to exude authority and polish in the flyhalf channel, with a view to rekindling Bok credentials while Messrs Pollard and Lambie are on long-term injury lists. Still, up against him will be one of the most heavyweight names in the Sunwolves’ ranks, Samoan international TUSI PISI who has previously represented two NZ franchises in the competition.

    Last result between sides: No previous meetings  

    Sport24 predictions: Rob Houwing: Lions by nine points; Garrin Lambley: Lions by 12 points; Herman Mostert: Lions by seven points; Lloyd Burnard: Lions by 18 points.

    *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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