Cape Town – Sport24 chief writer Rob Houwing, in the next of his regular South African-focused Vodacom Super Rugby previews this year, takes a deep breath and tips the Sharks to bring the Hurricanes back to earth in a high-stakes clash at Kings Park on Saturday.
Durban could be rain-lashed for the duel, and if there’s a minimum of fancy stuff as a result it could play conveniently into the hands of the far from confrontation-shy hosts.
The Bulls’ second tour match against the Brumbies holds the promise of decent competitiveness, too, although history suggests the Aussie outfit should edge it, and both the Cheetahs and Kings appear set for further misery.
*Rob lies 10,203rd out of about 195,000 contestants for Super Rugby predictions on SuperBru, with a current win success rate of 74%.
SPORT24 PICK OF THE CROP
SHARKS v HURRICANES, Durban
When: Saturday, 15:00
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen (SA)
TV: M-Net, SS1
SuperSport commentators: Andy Capostagno & AJ Venter (Eng), Gerrie Scheepers & Kobus Wiese (Afrik), Kaunda Ntunja & Sindile Mayende (Xho)
Weather outlook: Overcast with rain, gentle breeze
Background: The weather outlook for Durban on Saturday afternoon continues to indicate a good chance of bucketing rain … and a wet pitch anyway from the moisture that supposedly sets in the night before. As mentioned earlier in the week, I don’t believe the Sharks will mind that – not after the Hurricanes ran in seven handsome tries on a dry (but still crumbly at scrum-time!) surface against the Lions. A good old arm-wrestle is arguably the best ticket to a much-needed Sharks triumph, and they have the physicality both up front and behind the scrum – Andre Esterhuizen will be a valued bruiser at No 12 – to be able to do the job. A rested Tendai Mtawarira returning to the loosehead prop slot, and hopefully also engaging referees more tactfully, ought to help their bid for set-piece mastery. Nevertheless, our majority belief at Sport24 that the Sharks will prevail is offered with extreme caution and anxiety; the ‘Canes are a classy crew just as anxious to win this one to stay in touch with the front-runners in their own, toughest conference of the lot.
Key head-to-head: Considering the way the Hurricanes so forcefully bossed the breakdown in their resounding triumph in Johannesburg last week, it will be an area the Sharks are bound to have given much attention to in the build-up. Pivotal to their plans, naturally, will be their mobile open-sider KEEGAN DANIEL, a near 10-year veteran of Super Rugby who will hope to see good use of physicality from his co-loosies Daniel and Jean-Luc du Preez in the quest to rule the department. But the wily young ARDIE SAVEA, brother of explosive wing Julian, won’t be wishing to play second fiddle in ball stealing as Daniel’s direct opponent. There are many others in the ‘Canes pack with no lack of fetching instincts, either.
Last result between sides: May 9, 2015: Hurricanes 32 Sharks 24 (Wellington)
Sport24 staff predictions: Rob Houwing: Sharks by five; Garrin Lambley: Sharks by one; Herman Mostert: Sharks by one; Lloyd Burnard: Hurricanes by 10.
SA GAME 2
BRUMBIES v BULLS, Canberra
When: Friday, 11:45 (SA time)
Referee: Ben O’Keeffe (NZ)
TV: M-Net, SS1
SuperSport commentators: Australian panel
Weather outlook: Fine, cool, light breeze
Background: Canberra so seldom being a happy hunting ground for South Africans, it is difficult to back the Bulls, regrettably, to earn a second consecutive overseas victory. But they will certainly have a fair enough chance, if they build on their refreshingly up-tempo showing in Perth. The Brumbies, however, are desperate to seize back domestic conference leadership from the Rebels, who are on a bye and nursing a tenuous two-point log lead. They are throwing their heaviest guns at the men from Pretoria, it seems, and will believe they can dominate field position both through set play and because of their renowned comfort “on the ball”. Still, it could be a really ding-dong tussle if, for example, last week’s sprightly and youthful Bulls lock pairing, RG Snyman and Marvin Orie, have bees in their bonnets once more and captain Adriaan Strauss – a comforting counter to Stephen Moore at hooker – cranks up his Bok credentials for the Irish Tests soon.
Key head-to-head: Back having a good run at his favoured berth of inside centre, Springbok JAN SERFONTEIN has restored a huge amount of creativity and hunger to his game after a worrying spell more reliant on “bashing”, culminating in a storming display as the Bulls near-routed the Force in their Aussie tour opener. But when he comes up against MATT TOOMUA he will know that his direct opponent, a versatile footballer, brings subtle and potentially game-breaking skills to the party as well.
Last result between sides: May 29, 2015: Brumbies 22 Bulls 16 (Canberra)
Sport24 staff predictions: Rob Houwing: Brumbies by seven; Garrin Lambley: Brumbies by six; Herman Mostert: Brumbies by three; Lloyd Burnard: Brumbies by six.
SA GAME 3
WARATAHS v CHEETAHS, Sydney
When: Saturday, 11:45 (SA time)
Referee: Nic Berry (Aus)
TV: M-Net, SS1
SuperSport commentators: Australian panel
Weather outlook: Partly cloudy, mild, light breeze
Background: It is dangerous game three on their Australian trip for the Cheetahs, when minds are drifting to Airbus or Boeing doors and the prospect of a zero win record looms uncomfortably large. Some hope comes from the fact that the ‘Tahs have just travelled back from SA … but they’re in fine fettle from events at Newlands. Sadly I sense a big reverse for Franco Smith’s charges, especially with an experimental-looking pack (even if a start at last for Oupa Mohoje seems a pleasing development). When these foes last met in Bloemfontein last year, the Waratahs comfortably bagged a fast and loose affair by nine tries to five, and with the Cheetahs’ ropey defensive reputation, expect several further visits to the try-line by the Sydney hosts a year on.
Key head-to-head: Good luck to young NICO LEE, the Cheetahs outside centre who is tasked with keeping a certain ISRAEL FOLAU – one of the most dynamic attackers in Super Rugby – as quiet as possible. The Folau-Beale midfield combo crucially gave the Stormers defence plenty of problems last Saturday, despite the experienced Bok presence of Messrs De Jongh and De Allende at centre for the host team, so the former Affies pupil, in his first season at this level, will warrant a major tick to his name if he properly muzzles Folau, who got a hat-trick of tries last time out against the Cheetahs …
Last result between sides: June 6, 2015: Cheetahs 33 Waratahs 58 (Bloemfontein)
Sport24 staff predictions: Rob Houwing: Waratahs by 25; Garrin Lambley: Waratahs by 14; Herman Mostert: Waratahs by 14; Lloyd Burnard: Waratahs by 14.
SA GAME 4
KINGS v BLUES, Port Elizabeth
When: Saturday, 17:10
Referee: Federico Anselmi (Arg)
TV: M-Net, SS1
SuperSport commentators: Hugh Bladen & Owen Nkumane (Eng), Hennie Koortzen & Derick Hougaard (Afrik), Lonwabo Mtimka & Makhaya Jack (Xho)
Weather outlook: Cloudy, chance of rain, moderate wind
Background: The Kings came a terrible cropper on their first-time visit to Buenos Aires last weekend, so a New Zealand team looming as next opponents hardly seems the right medicine for a sudden turnaround, does it? Yes, the Blues are bottom of the NZ conference, but still streets better than many other Super Rugby teams and sporting four wins – that’s three up on the Kings. Expected blustery conditions with some rain may drag the PE side a little closer, but you have to still imagine the Blues streaking clear in the second half, if not before. There is, of course, no form book between them to examine because these sides didn’t lock horns in the Kings’ much more competitive 2013 campaign. Er, do we even need one?
Key head-to-head: In a season otherwise minus much cheer, the restless energy of CJ VELLEMAN among the Kings loose forwards has been a pleasing development, especially as the man from Somerset East is still only 21. Shrewdly accommodated at No 8 to ensure that Chris Cloete is able to join him in livewire activity from open-side flank, Velleman gets a further crack at a gnarly Super Rugby customer in the shape of Blues eighthman STEVEN LUATUA, the 114kg All Black who is a strong ball-carrier even if his rookie rival will eclipse him in the pace stakes.
Last result between sides: No prior meetings
Sport24 staff predictions: Rob Houwing: Blues by 22; Garrin Lambley: Blues by 17; Herman Mostert: Blues by 20; Lloyd Burnard: Blues by 10.
*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing