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    Sharks will stay with pace-setters

    2016-03-04 09:30

    Cape Town – Sport24 chief writer Rob Houwing, in round two of his regular South African-focused Super Rugby previews this year, tips the Sharks to outfox the tough but prone-to-ill-discipline Jaguares in their first home fixture on Saturday night.

    The Stormers will similarly continue on winning ways by ending their three-match derby hoodoo in Bloemfontein against the Cheetahs, whilst the Bulls should stabilise after the Newlands thumping by seeing off the Melbourne Rebels in Highveld conditions.

    But he can’t, unfortunately, see the Lions knocking over the Chiefs in their Hamilton den in Saturday’s early-bird game ...

    SPORT24 PICK OF THE CROP

    SHARKS v JAGUARES, Durban

    When: Saturday, 19:20

    Referee: Jaco Peyper (SA)

    TV: M-Net, SS1

    SuperSport commentators: Owen Nkumane & AJ Venter (Eng), Hennie Koortzen & Jaco van der Westhuyzen (Afrik), Kaya Malotana & Lungelo Payi (Xho)

    Weather outlook: Partly cloudy, warm, moderate wind

    Background: Much has been made of so many Argentinean internationals in the Jaguares’ ranks returning to the scene of a famous triumph – that first-time 37-25 victory over a complacent Springbok side last year. If anything, it may only remind the home franchise to be properly switched on in this Super Rugby encounter. Gary Gold will have banged into his charges the fact that they were pretty ordinary in the first half before hitting their straps to trounce the Kings last time out; expect a more complete performance this time, especially with a bit more muscle returning to the second row at a timely juncture with Stephan Lewies passed fit for a first start this year. It should be a decent contest, considering how the Jaguares came back from the dead to pip the Cheetahs, but their discipline was poor in Bloemfontein, with some costly red-mist moments, and stalwart Pumas lock Tomas Lavanini is inconveniently suspended for this one. 

    Key head-to-head: As if we needed it anyway, Jaguares captain AGUSTIN CREEVY provided confirmation in the Free State last weekend of what an asset he is to Super Rugby ... especially now that another of the planet’s best hookers, Bismarck du Plessis, has abandoned it. The 30-year-old Pumas Test veteran was at his robust best against the Cheetahs, bringing customary mongrel in the tight-loose – helped by his years of know-how in the slow-yardage club climes of Europe -- but also showing deft stepping skills at times. Given the unenviable task of keeping him in check at Kings Park is one of Du Plessis’ successors in the Sharks No 2 jersey, FRANCO MARAIS. The former Baby Bok star from Vereeniging should boast an edge for mobility, but probably knows that he’ll need to front up with some courage to Creevy in the murkier areas of the battle.    

    Last result between sides: No previous meetings

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

    SA GAME 2

    CHEETAHS v STORMERS, Bloemfontein

    When: Saturday, 17:10

    Referee: Craig Joubert (SA)

    TV: M-Net, SS1

    SuperSport commentators: Gavin Cowley & Kobus Wiese (Eng), Gerrie Scheepers & Derick Hougaard (Afrik), Lonwabo Mtimka & Makhaya Jack (Xho)

    Weather outlook: Fine and hot, gentle breeze

    Background: If bogeys are only there to be broken, then the Stormers have every incentive to finally stop their three-game drought in Super Rugby visits to the central franchise. Once again they will be favourites, even if history has shown that the Cheetahs love entering this one as the unfancied outfit. Perhaps the most burning question for this one is: can the hosts repeat their heroic scrummaging resistance from that 34-33 loss to the setpiece-maestro Jaguares? It may be necessary, as they tackle a Stormers side boasting two equally competent front rows, something demonstrated in the comfortable disposal of the Bulls. If the Cheetahs are to earn a minor upset here, they may well have taken note of the absence of injured Kobus van Wyk from the visitors’ back three, making them fast and slippery but a little lightweight in pure physical terms defensively. That said, Stormers maiden starter Leolin Zas may just prove a game-breaker, and the other wing Dillyn Leyds showed welcome new appetite in the tackle area last weekend, I thought ... 

    Key head-to-head: They were squad-mates when the Baby Boks won the IRB Junior World Championship on home soil in 2012, but now Cheetahs tighthead prop MAKS VAN DYK packs down directly against big OLI KEBBLE, the Stormers’ starting loosehead. They should still boast useful technical knowledge on each other. Van Dyk will seek a repeat of his solidity against the Jaguares, whilst Kebble will want a rousing outing given the bench threat posed by that seasoned pro JC Janse van Rensburg. Might the Stormers also try to make better use this week of Kebble’s Coenie Oosthuizen-like ball-carrying ability?

    Last result between sides: May 30, 2015: Stormers 42 Cheetahs 12 (Cape Town)

    Sport24 predictions: Rob Houwing: Stormers by eight points; Garrin Lambley: Stormers by six points; Herman Mostert: Stormers by three points; Lloyd Burnard: Stormers by 10 points.

    SA GAME 3

    BULLS v REBELS, Pretoria

    When: Saturday, 15:00

    Referee: Ben O’Keeffe (NZ)

    TV: M-Net, SS1

    SuperSport commentators: Matthew Pearce & Joel Stransky (Eng), John van Rensburg & Werner Swanepoel (Afrik), Kaunda Ntunja & Alfred Mzizi (Xho)

    Weather outlook: Partly cloudy, very warm, near-windless

    Background: Loftus is still considered one of the most intimidating places for overseas foes to visit ... but for how much longer might that apply? The Bulls won their last of three Super Rugby titles in 2010, but perhaps 2016 sees them at their most vulnerable yet in terms of risk of descent into strict mediocrity. It will be interesting to see what sort of crowd turns out for their first home game, after the sobering 33-9 loss at Newlands. Remember that even last season, when they boasted better experience in their squad, the Bulls (ninth) only narrowly eclipsed the Melbourne outfit (10th) on the overall log; each had seven wins and nine losses. That said, altitude and late summer heat could help the Bulls’ cause in this one; the Rebels have just flown in from a messy, sauna-like slugout against the Force in Perth, which they won 25-19 without looking world-beaters at all. The Aussie combo also remain a depressing 0/10 statistically for wins on our soil!

    Key head-to-head: The Bulls will doubtless seek to introduce a bit of backline sparkle this week, after cripplingly slow ball supply largely scuppered that likelihood in Cape Town. It is also instructive that with Jesse Kriel injured, coach Nollis Marais has shifted the still disappointingly low-key Jan Serfontein to outside centre, allowing for BURGER ODENDAAL to bring some go-forward potential to the No 12 shirt. Odendaal was forceful at Loftus last season, sometimes outshining Springbok Serfontein, and here he encounters MITCH INMAN, an adhesive, staple presence in the Rebels’ backline and now seven-year veteran of Super Rugby combat.  

    Last result between sides: June 6, 2015: Rebels 21 Bulls 20 (Melbourne)

    Sport24 predictions: Rob Houwing: Bulls by 10 points; Garrin Lambley: Bulls by eight points; Herman Mostert: Bulls by seven points; Lloyd Burnard: Bulls by eight points.

    SA GAME 4

    CHIEFS v LIONS, Hamilton

    When: Saturday, 06:15

    Referee: Andrew Lees (Aus)

    TV: M-Net, SS1

    SuperSport commentators: NZ panel

    Weather outlook: Partly cloudy, mild, light breeze

    Background: It’s difficult to decide which is the more daunting of the two Lions fixtures in New Zealand: Chiefs this weekend or defending champions the Highlanders next? And will they try to “target” one in particular? Considering the Australasian leg is now notably shorter for SA teams, hopefully they will have a proper stab at both. Still, they run into a Chiefs side chuffed to have already beaten the Crusaders away, and clearly eyeing a return to the title-winning glory days of 2012-13. It is also true that the Lions carried too many cobwebs in their winning effort against the Sunwolves newcomers in Tokyo; they will require much better precision to earn an unexpected triumph here. Here’s hoping they run the Chiefs much closer than in the 2014 encounter at Hamilton, when they leaked six tries to the rampant Mooloo Men.

    Key head-to-head: What an opportunity for JACO KRIEL ... if the Lions’ openside flank tearaway is to press strong Springbok claims this year, then a very competitive outing against Chiefs skipper SAM CANE, Richie McCaw’s likely long-term fetcher successor for the All Blacks, would enhance his quest enormously. I count myself among the school of thought that a post-RWC 2015 Bok side could do with a swift, hot-stepping loosie along the lines of a Rob Louw of old. But Cane, already a 31-cap international and World Cup winner, probably has the edge in pure pilfering terms and in close-quarters play, where Kriel could have his work cut out. Brodie Retallick against under-valued Lions workhorse Franco Mostert in the five jerseys is another appetising duel.

    Last result between sides: May 3, 2014: Chiefs 38 Lions 8 (Hamilton)

    Sport24 predictions: Rob Houwing: Chiefs by 12 points; Garrin Lambley: Chiefs by six points; Herman Mostert: Chiefs by five points; Lloyd Burnard: Chiefs by 10 points.

    *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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