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    Sharks to avenge horror show!

    2016-03-24 15:19
    Cape Town - Sport24 chief writer Rob Houwing, in the next of his regular South African-focused Super Rugby previews this year, backs the Sharks to beat the Crusaders by a whisker in Saturday’s glamour game at Kings Park - erasing memories of that 2015 humiliation at the venue.  

    Similarly, but with no extra confidence, he envisages the streetwise Stormers doing just enough on a tough, hostile date in Buenos Aires to see off the Jaguares.

    The Bulls ought to rumble their way to victory over the reasonably sprightly but physically rather ill-equipped Sunwolves in Singapore, though there will be no Easter eggs, by his book, for the Cheetahs and Kings.

    *Rob lies 5 141st out of about 191 000 contestants for Super Rugby predictions on SuperBru, with a current win success rate of 73%.



    When: Saturday, 17:15

    Referee: Jaco Peyper (SA)

    TV: M-Net, SS1

    SuperSport commentators: Gavin Cowley & AJ Venter (Eng), John van Rensburg & Toks van der Linde (Afrik), Lonwabo Mtimka & Makhaya Jack (Xho)

    Weather outlook: Cloudy, warm, light breeze

    Background: If you were basing your prediction for Saturday’s appetising clash solely on evidence from last year’s equivalent encounter at the same ground, you would be hard-pressed to venture a Sharks victory, wouldn’t you? But the Durban-based franchise are light years better -- and more harmonious and hungrier -- than they were a year or so back. On that abjectly forgettable day for Sharks diehards, they were thumped by a 52-10 margin and eight tries to one. Yes, it even occurred despite the ‘Saders having THREE men in the busy “bin” at the same time at one point, although Jean Deysel also summed up the hosts’ indiscipline last season with a reckless, knee-to-head red-card offence. The Sharks of 2016 are infinitely more focused, and I see them eking out this one, even if the increasingly moody visitors cannot remotely be written off – there’s still plenty of All Black class in their midst.

    Key head-to-head: Sharks open-side flank dynamo MARCELL COETZEE seems to be doing his very damnedest already to ensure he is central to the mix when the Springboks open their international roster in mid-year against Ireland. Compensating in no small measure for the loss of Bismarck du Plessis’s pilfering qualities at rucks, Coetzee has been a tireless, muscular presence in that department, and also strong ball-carrier and fiery tackler. He will already know, however, that he comes up against a high-calibre stealing foe on Saturday in the shape of MATT TODD, no doubt hoping in the post-Richie McCaw era to add at some point to his three (substitute) caps for the All Blacks thus far …

    Last result between sides: April 4, 2015: Sharks 10 Crusaders 52 (Durban)

    Sport24 staff predictions: Rob Houwing: Sharks by one; Garrin Lambley: Sharks by one; Herman Mostert: Sharks by three; Lloyd Burnard: Sharks by six.

    SA GAME 2

    JAGUARES v STORMERS, Buenos Aires

    When: Saturday, 23:40 (SA time)

    Referee: Chris Pollock (NZ)

    TV: M-Net, SS1

    SuperSport commentators: Hugh Bladen & Robbie Kempson (Eng), Gerrie Scheepers & Werner Swanepoel (Afrik), Kaunda Ntunja & Alfred Mzizi (Xho)

    Weather outlook: Cloudy, mild, moderate wind

    Background: The Stormers saw off these opponents with surprising ease in a Cape Town pre-season friendly, although you have to be cautious in seeing harbingers from those occasions. Make no mistake, a gladiatorial zeal will be much more evident from the Jaguares this time around, backed up by passionate and one-eyed hometown support. It was sorely tempting to predict a win by the Argentineans, but in the end I opted for the Stormers due in no small measure to their traditional defensive competence, which may be critical in repelling the Jaguares’ lively raids from various angles and ranges on the park. If the Stormers can repeat their desire to maintain healthy field position, as they did against the Brumbies, they ought to have enough opportunities – especially if improving Kurt Coleman is on song off the tee – to nose ahead on the scoreboard and stay there. Just about!   

    Key head-to-head: JUAN DE JONGH has become more and more animated and assertive in his Super Rugby leadership, while not sacrificing composure in doing so. The seasoned Springbok is also in consistently decent touch at his temporary station of inside centre, compensating for the absence at present of Damian de Allende. He will have to be at his best in all capacities as he probably (the Jaguares team was not finalised at the time of writing) comes up against another wily old fox of top-flight rugby, that versatile footballer JUAN MARTIN HERNANDEZ. He may be 33, but Hernandez still knows how to provide key direction, whether it be at 10 or 12 …    

    Last result between sides: No prior meetings

    Sport24 staff predictions: Rob Houwing: Stormers by three; Garrin Lambley: Stormers by one; Herman Mostert: Stormers by three; Lloyd Burnard: Stormers by six.

    SA GAME 3

    CHEETAHS v BRUMBIES, Bloemfontein

    When: Saturday, 15:05

    Referee: Glen Jackson (NZ)

    TV: M-Net, SS1

    SuperSport commentators: Owen Nkumane & Butch James (Eng), Christo Olivier & Toks van der Linde (Afrik), Kaya Malotana & Lungelo Payi (Xho)

    Weather outlook: Possible showers, cool, light breeze

    Background: On a good day for them in Bloemfontein, the Cheetahs are historically capable of knocking over just about any comers. But their resources are stretched this year, and the fact that the Brumbies will visit smarting from first-time 2016 defeat at Newlands does little to suggest a home-town upset. One thing in their favour is that significant volumes of Free State rain are anticipated by some weather websites in the immediate lead-up to kick-off, so if the pitch is wet or muddy it could act as a bit of a leveller. Even then, you’d expect the Aussie pack to have ascendancy both in set play and at the breakdowns, with wily David Pocock to the fore and no Heinrich Brussow these days to stand spiritedly in his way.

    Key head-to-head: If the going is slippery, the role of the respective scrumhalves in adapting to the handling and tactical kicking difficulties naturally comes sharply into focus. Here the Cheetahs’ experienced journeyman SHAUN VENTER may have the tougher job against TOMAS CUBELLI if, as expected, the Brumbies forwards get on the front foot. Cubelli, a 45-cap international for Argentina, has been a worthy replacement so far for that cockiest of all No 9s, Nic White, now plying his trade in France.

    Last result between sides: April 4, 2015: Brumbies 20 Cheetahs 3 (Canberra)

    Sport24 staff predictions: Rob Houwing: Brumbies by 10; Garrin Lambley: Brumbies by nine; Herman Mostert: Brumbies by seven; Lloyd Burnard: Brumbies by 12.

    SA GAME 4

    SUNWOLVES v BULLS, Singapore

    When: Saturday, 12:55 (SA time)

    Referee: William Houston (Aus)

    TV: M-Net, SS1

    SuperSport commentators: Matthew Pearce & Bob Skinstad (Eng), Gerrie Scheepers & Werner Swanepoel (Afrik), Kaunda Ntunja & Alfred Mzizi (Xho)

    Weather outlook: Partly cloudy, very warm, gentle breeze

    Background: The Bulls have entered a favourable phase of fixtures on paper … starting with what should, and perhaps needs to be, a comfortable triumph over the Japanese combo in Singapore. Trounced by the Rebels last time out, the Sunwolves will be fragile and the Bulls can cash in. Hopefully they will play a multi-faceted brand of rugby, but if they are forced to keep things industrial then that should still be more than enough to get them over the line – the “home” team have already shown set-piece limitations and seem to find it hard curbing rolling mauls toward their try-line. If they keep their wits about them, the Bulls, dynamic and hungry for encouraging periods against the Sharks, should get a full house of log points.

    Key head-to-head: It’s an amazing thought that, at a Bulls franchise once bursting with gnarly Springbok lock legends, lanky RG SNYMAN – three Super Rugby caps -- is suddenly the senior second-rower for them against the Sunwolves. (Rookie partner Jason Jenkins also has three caps, but this will be his maiden start.) Directly opposing lineout banker and presumably chief caller Snyman will be Auckland-born LIAKI MOLI, who infuses the Japanese side with handy prior Super Rugby acumen from his spell with the Blues.

    Last result between sides: No prior meetings

    Sport24 staff predictions: Rob Houwing: Bulls by 13; Garrin Lambley: Bulls by 14; Herman Mostert: Bulls by 15; Lloyd Burnard: Bulls by seven.

    SA GAME 5

    HURRICANES v KINGS, Wellington

    When: Friday, 08:35 (SA time)

    Referee: William Houston (Aus)

    TV: M-Net, SS1

    SuperSport commentators: NZ-provided (Eng), Hennie Koortzen & Derick Hougaard (Afrik), Kaunda Ntunja & Alfred Mzizi (Xho)

    Weather outlook: Cloudy, chilly, stiff wind

    Background: It just doesn’t get any easier in Super Rugby 2016 for the frail Kings: they have already leaked 158 points in three matches and now, already punch-drunk on their NZ tour, run into the free-running Hurricanes. As much as you want to imagine the floodgates staying rather more “closed” on this occasion, smart money suggests the hosts and 2015 runners-up will doddle it. The Hurricanes will be aware that the Kings have a habit of being resilient in the first half-hour or thereabouts, so if they make a conscious effort to get out of the blocks smartly themselves, this one has the potential to balloon particularly horribly on the scoreboard. Hopefully the visitors have watched the video of their pluckiness in the Cake Tin in 2013, when there were only 16 points’ difference and six tries to three. 

    Key head-to-head: What the Kings will desperately need here are a couple of men to genuinely place their bodies on the line and act as inspirers to the many un-trumpeted souls around them. Dubiously curtailed to the bench last week after a lively shift against the Chiefs in Port Elizabeth, hooker EDGAR MARUTLULLE, the Boksburg bomber nicknamed “Toolbox”, needs to front up heroically to Hurricanes captain and fast-rising All Black incumbent DANE COLES. 

    Last result between sides: March 30, 2013: Hurricanes 46 Kings 30 (Wellington)

    Sport24 staff predictions: Rob Houwing: Hurricanes by 40; Garrin Lambley: Hurricanes by 34; Herman Mostert: Hurricanes by 35; Lloyd Burnard: Hurricanes by 34.

    *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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    23 February 2017
    • Rebels v Blues, AAMI Park 12:45
    24 February 2017
    • Highlanders v Chiefs, 10:35
    • Reds v Sharks, Suncorp Stadium 13:00
    25 February 2017
    • Sunwolves v Hurricanes, Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium 08:15
    • Crusaders v Brumbies, AMI Stadium 10:35
    • Waratahs v Force, Allianz Stadium 12:45
    • Cheetahs v Lions, Toyota Stadium 17:05
    • Kings v Jaguares, Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium 19:15
    • Stormers v Bulls, Cape Town 21:30


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