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    Why Lions and Stormers (yes!) to progress

    2017-07-21 13:00

    Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

    Cape Town – Sport24 chief writer Rob Houwing, in the latest of his regular South African-focused Super Rugby previews this year, had a late change of heart – is that wise, he asks himself? – and now narrowly backs the Stormers to follow the Lions into the semi-finals of Super Rugby.

    For all the Sharks’ earthy physical possibilities in the Johannesburg quarter-final derby, he nevertheless sees the well-oiled, overall table-topping Lions moving onward reasonably routinely at their expense, but the real head-scratcher was the Cape Town game.

    Eventually, and seemingly against the grain of neutral thought, he altered his early-week belief that the Chiefs would be too hot to handle and now tips Robbie Fleck’s charges to edge the side who have had the long-haul factor to contend with.

    Not that he would be bowled over with disbelief if the Mooloo Men prevailed …

    SPORT24 PICK OF THE CROP

    LIONS v SHARKS, Johannesburg

    When: Saturday, 14:30

    Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen (SA)

    TV: M-Net, SS1

    SuperSport commentators: Hugh Bladen & Joel Stransky (Eng), John van Rensburg & Gary Boshoff (Afrik), Kaunda Ntunja & Makhaya Jack (Xho)

    Weather outlook: Clear, mild, light breeze

    Background: Sadly from a Sharks point of view, it is not the best of omens that they actually produced one of their most inspiring performances in the first-round derby in the Big Smoke earlier this season. They were rather cruelly nosed out 34-29 in the end, but not before knocking the Lions right off their stride with a combination of murderous forward commitment and some welcome verve in wider berths as well. Credit the wily Lions … in the end their composure held admirably, but yes, they had been lucky. Fuelled by memories of that April Fools Day, I’d expect the Lions to be properly motivated (even minus that valued bonding figure Warren Whiteley) and spiritedly anti the notion of making the same mistakes this time. Their own pack are no shrinking violets at close quarters, and with Kwagga Smith having added plenty to their linking play from his flank berth alongside co-whippet Jaco Kriel, it is hard to find the Sharks’ route to victory in this one, even if they cling on like terriers. Which they can, hopefully making for a rousing clash.

    Key head-to-head: Resurgent Springbok flyhalf ELTON JANTJIES has been so central to much of what the Lions do strategically for so long … so why wouldn’t he be just as priceless a potential game-breaker for this all-SA quarter-final? The 26-year-old (another birthday looms on August 1) loves playing in red and white and he loves a firm Emirates Airline Park surface, too, so lots is stacked in his favour. Nevertheless, the Sharks have acted very wisely indeed by restoring wunderkind CURWIN BOSCH to their own No 10 channel. For a notably lean-framed lad, he gets monster range with his kicking, whether out of hand or off the tee, and that factor alone means the underdogs may be a key bit more competitive than they were in last weekend’s strange-vibe meeting. Bosch naturally also has a strong influence on whether the Sharks can surprise with some sprightly backline play …

    Last result between sides: July 15, 2017: Sharks 10 Lions 27 (Durban)

    Sport24 staff predictions: Rob Houwing: Lions by eight points; Garrin Lambley: Lions by 12; Herman Mostert: Lions by 12; Lloyd Burnard: Lions by 10.

    SA GAME 2

    STORMERS v CHIEFS, Cape Town

    When: Saturday, 17:00

    Referee: Jaco Peyper (SA)

    TV: M-Net, SS1

    SuperSport commentators: Matthew Pearce & Hanyani Shimange (Eng), Hennie Koortzen & Kobus Wiese (Afrik), Lonwabo Mtimka & Kaya Malotana (Xho)

    Weather outlook: Clear, cool, moderate wind

    Background: I traditionally steer clear of changing my prediction spots, as it were, from one day to another. But I also gradually came round to the idea that maybe, just maybe, the Stormers aren’t getting quite the fair cop they warrant for the home advantage factor at Newlands, which can be an intimidating place to foes, and also that on paper – Robbie Fleck chose his XV well in midweek – the hosts really don’t have to take major backward steps to the Chiefs. My reservations about the Stormers, until pretty late in the lead-up, centred mostly around how loose and scrappy they’ve been in the closing weeks of ordinary season. But those were also low-importance fixtures, really, given how early they’d wrapped up their conference, so expect them to be more disciplined and conservative at judicious times against the flair-laden guests from Waikato. I suspect the much-vaunted Stormers tight five, scratchy for a while, are ripe for a more polished and focused showing, and that could go a long way to winkling out this one. But nail-biter? Phew, every chance!

    Key head-to-head: There are several quality match-ups: what’s not to like, for instance, about two twinkle-toed, catch-‘em-on-the-counter runners at fullback in SP Marais (his extra place-kicking possibilities are timely, in addition) and Damian McKenzie? Or a resumption of the always gripping second-row tussle -- at all levels -- between No 4 meanies Eben Etzebeth and Brodie Retallick? But in a game like this one, and given both sides’ relish for attack from deep, the breakdown ought to be pivotal … cue the mouth-watering scrap between in-form Bok open-sider SIYA KOLISI and fellow international SAM CANE. The former brings that tad greater grunt to the party at close quarters; Cane an edge in pure mobility. The fact that both call leadership shots only adds to the gravitas of their duel. Expect them to push the boundaries to the very limit in the quest for individual bragging rights from this one …  

    Last result between sides: April 8, 2017: Stormers 34 Chiefs 26 (Cape Town)

    Sport24 staff predictions: Rob Houwing: Stormers by two points; Garrin Lambley: Chiefs by three; Herman Mostert: Chiefs by three; Lloyd Burnard: Chiefs by five.

    *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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