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    Sharks’ pack tonnage to be telling!

    2017-05-26 16:45

    Cape Town – Sport24 chief writer Rob Houwing, in the 14th of his regular South African-focused Super Rugby previews this year, suspects that the collective forward muscle of the Sharks will just tilt the derby scales against the Stormers in expected damp conditions at Kings Park on Saturday.

    There is unanimous support for the “home win” theory from his co-staffers – though all anticipate a markedly tight scrap -- as well as weekly columnist Mark Keohane, who is that bit more vocal in Sharks favour; he believes the margin could be as much as “seven to 10 points” as Robert du Preez’s charges find some decent consistency over the course of 80 minutes this week.

    In what is hardly a curveball development, the collector’s-item Sunday afternoon kick-off between the Lions and Kings in Johannesburg is heavily tipped to go the way of the SA pace-setting outfit, with some daylight between the protagonists.

    Hurricanes at Loftus? Well, what do YOU think is the common-sense pick, regrettably?

    But there is interesting dissension over the result between the Sunwolves and Cheetahs in Tokyo …

    *Rob picked the results of all eight of last weekend’s games correctly on SuperBru, giving him a season record thus far of 79/102 (77.45 percent).

    SPORT24 PICK OF THE CROP:

    SHARKS v STORMERS, Durban

    When: Saturday, 17:15

    Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen (SA)

    Weather outlook: Cloudy, mild, some rain

    SuperSport commentators: Matthew Pearce & Hanyani Shimange (Eng), Gary Boshoff & Kobus Wiese (Afrik), Makhaya Jack & Lungelo Payi (Xho)

    Background: At such an advanced stage of ordinary season, this should be a really spicy, meaningful derby. But in a reflection of the weakness of the current clumsy, too widely-scattered conference system, it sadly doesn’t carry quite the gravitas you’d like it to. Yes, the regional passion ought to still be apparent and a bundle of individual match-ups will be worth watching as the Test season draws ever closer, but truth be told this doesn’t amount to a “can’t afford to lose” fixture in either case. The Stormers have the tepid Africa 1 pool 99 percent wrapped up already, whilst over in Africa 2 the Sharks are highly unlikely to unseat the Lions at the top from here … but just as unlikely to be beaten out of second (and still a quarter-final berth) by the now fairly distant Jaguares. That’s the slightly disappointing backdrop, but let’s hope for a suitably full-blooded match all the same. There’s a rookie-heavy feel to both absentee-hit backlines, but the physicality of the entire Sharks eight – they look like getting a bit more go-forward amongst the loosies, even if the tight fives are well matched on paper – could be decisive, by my book.  

    Key head-to-head: A heavy, greasy pitch seems a considerable risk for this clash of old coastal rivals, which increases the likelihood that it will be decided in “grunt” areas more than anything else. So the scrums could be a focal point, and the respective sets of props are chunky fellows … there’s some 263kg between the Sharks’s THOMAS DU TOIT and Coenie Oosthuizen, and around 250kg between rival  duo FRANS MALHERBE and Oli Kebble. The specific grapple between Springbok tighthead Malherbe and SA ‘A’ loosehead Du Toit has strong appeal; it would be a great chance for Malherbe to pick up his performance level after a so-so season thus far, whilst Du Toit is already in impressive form in all facets (remember Buenos Aires, for example?) and not making it easy for seasoned international Tendai Mtawarira to get regular starting gigs at No 1 at present …

    Last result between sides: March 12, 2016: Stormers 13 Sharks 18 (Cape Town)

    Sport24 staff predictions: Rob Houwing: Sharks by two; Garrin Lambley: Sharks by two; Herman Mostert: Sharks by three; Lloyd Burnard: Sharks by five

    SA GAME 2

    LIONS v KINGS, Johannesburg

    When: Sunday, 14:30

    Referee: Jaco Peyper (SA)

    Weather outlook: Sunny, chilly, moderate wind

    SuperSport commentators: Owen Nkumane & Warren Brosnihan (Eng), John van Rensburg & Werner Swanepoel (Afrik), Kaunda Ntunja & Kaya Malotana (Xho)

    Background: How many people are prepared to venture to the Lions’ stronghold on a Sunday afternoon? We’re about to find out, but it will be a surprise if the venue is notably under-populated. There’s a real buzz about the Lions and their supporters are lapping it up, and still (rightly) hopeful of Warren Whiteley’s men earning that top spot overall after ordinary season. It would be awfully deflating and damaging if they botched this home date with the Kings. With respect to the gutsy crew from PE, the Lions will be looking for a full-house victory. Only complacency is likely to trip them up, though it is significant that Johan Ackermann has all but named a “strongest possible” starting XV, clearly out of some respect to the Kings’ recent competitiveness. Being minus the crocked talisman Lionel Cronje at No 10 doesn’t help the underdogs’ cause. Keep in mind that the Lions put 42 points on them in the Friendly City in March.   

    Key head-to-head: Fetchers may famously be only for beer to Jake White, but purists of the open-side “stealer” role should be wringing their hands with excitement as two particularly orthodox, close-to-the-soil No 6s lock horns in this game. The Kings will be buoyed by the reappearance after a short concussion layoff of their terrier CHRIS CLOETE, who has just been rewarded for his season-long endeavour by a call-up to the SA ‘A’ squad to play the French Barbarians. But he is hardly guaranteed a free ride at Ellis Park … the Lions start with a very in-form KWAGGA SMITH amidst their loose trio, and he will want to be as dynamic as possible all over again. The reason is the return to the bench after injury of more senior squad-mate Jaco Kriel, quite likely to get a second-half gallop. It may not automatically be at Smith’s expense if he is going well …   

    Last result between sides: March 25, 2017: Kings 19 Lions 42 (Port Elizabeth)

    Sport24 staff predictions: Rob Houwing: Lions by 19; Garrin Lambley: Lions by 21; Herman Mostert: Lions by 20; Lloyd Burnard: Lions by 20

    SA GAME 3

    BULLS v HURRICANES, Pretoria

    When: Saturday, 15:05

    Referee: Egon Seconds (SA)

    Weather outlook: Sunny, warm, light breeze

    SuperSport commentators: Owen Nkumane & Warren Brosnihan (Eng), Hennie Koortzen & Toks van der Linde (Afrik), Kaunda Ntunja & Mahkaya Jack (Xho)

    Background: The John Mitchell Revolution at Loftus lies not too far ahead, but the big guy isn’t at the tiller quite yet, and that makes the Bulls vulnerable all over again in a home meeting with New Zealand opposition. The champions have come to town, and frankly will be eyeing a full house of log points on a fast, firm surface against a mentally-fragile and tactically-confused host outfit. It is hard to see the Bulls outwitting the ‘Canes over the course of 80 minutes, even if they play out of their skins at times. As mentioned earlier this week, the Bulls face foes who are running in tries for fun – 72 and counting, at an average of some six and a half per match. With unpleasant memories presumably still vivid of leaking seven at Emirates Airline Park last weekend, the maths hardly points to a Bulls upset. Their diehards will trickle through the turnstiles in hope, not expectation. Expect more dot-downs, I reckon, than in the last Pretoria meeting, when the Bulls were nosed out despite a meagre 1-1 try count (Handre Pollard, Julian Savea).

    Key head-to-head: Remember the hullabaloo about RUDY PAIGE getting scant game-time from Heyneke Meyer at RWC 2015? It seemed fairly justified at the time. Then again, what has he done subsequently of any special calibre to suggest “frontline Springbok”, really? Paige has struggled to reproduce his snap and crackle of two years ago, yet stays in the Bok mix for the French series. If he wanted to banish doubters, what better way than to match, move for move, the Hurricanes’ captain TJ PERENARA at Loftus? Perenara is so often at the fulcrum of the Wellingtonians’ wicked attacking ways, and the All Black isn’t shy to perkily pressure referees, either. With apologies to old ska outfit The Specials, how about a few “messages” from you, too, Rudy?

    Last result between sides: February 20, 2015: Bulls 13 Hurricanes 17 (Pretoria)

    Sport24 staff predictions: Rob Houwing: Hurricanes by 11; Garrin Lambley: Hurricanes by 15; Herman Mostert: Hurricanes by 13; Lloyd Burnard: Hurricanes by 25

    SA GAME 4

    SUNWOLVES v CHEETAHS, Tokyo

    When: Saturday, 07:15 (SA time)

    Referee: Will Houston (Aus)

    Weather outlook: Mild, chance of showers, gentle breeze

    SuperSport commentators: Provided panel

    Background: A hazardous one to forecast, this. The Cheetahs slog onward to Japan after their bombardment at the hands of New Zealand teams in earlier travels. There is the risk that they will be punch-drunk and footsore, yet also mindful that this represents a wonderful opportunity for a consolation victory before heading home. Make no mistake, the Cheetahs can win … and even win well. But the Sunwolves will be just as keen to bag only a third scalp in their short, unproductive history in the competition. They have developed a budding little habit of being very competitive at home against some SA opponents, and the Cheetahs have rather obvious frailties of their own. Remember that it was only 38-31 and four tries all in Bloemfontein earlier in the season, with the Free Staters very grateful then to Fred Zeilinga’s 7/8 accuracy off the kicking tee.

    Key head-to-head: In a relatively thin field of specialist wings in his first Springbok squad of the year, Allister Coetzee has offered a spot to Cheetahs flier RAYMOND RHULE, one of the most crowd-pleasing “gas men” of Super Rugby when he is given some space and is menacingly on the front foot. Something counting against him, perhaps, is that he represents the notoriously leaky Cheetahs: would the Accra-born 24-year-old bring some inadequate defensive habits into Test rugby? Still, he could go that bit closer toward a maiden Test cap soon if he features prominently in Tokyo, where his direct opponent on the Sunwolves’ right will be utility back TAKAAZI NAKAZURU. He has an eye for the try-line, but at only 79kg, the visitors’ bigger athlete Raymond could rule the roost in this tussle …

    Last result between sides: March 11, 2017: Cheetahs 38 Sunwolves 31 (Bloemfontein)

    Sport24 staff predictions: Rob Houwing: Sunwolves by three; Garrin Lambley: Cheetahs by six; Herman Mostert: Cheetahs by five; Lloyd Burnard: Sunwolves by four

    *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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    Fixtures

    Saturday, 17 February 2018
    • Stormers v Jaguares, Cape Town 15:05
    • Lions v Sharks, Emirates Airlines Park 17:15
    Friday, 23 February 2018
    • Highlanders v Blues, 08:35
    • Rebels v Reds, AAMI Park 10:45
    Saturday, 24 February 2018
    • Sunwolves v Brumbies, Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium 06:15
    • Crusaders v Chiefs, 08:35
    • Waratahs v Stormers, Allianz Stadium 10:45
    • Lions v Jaguares, Emirates Airlines Park 15:05
    • Bulls v Hurricanes, Loftus Versfeld 17:15

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