Bulls to prey on tiring Kings

    2013-04-19 09:00
    Cape Town - Sport24 chief writer Rob Houwing, in his regular South African Super Rugby preview, tips wins for the Bulls and Sharks in their respective local derbies.

    GALLERY: Key Round 10 match-ups


    KINGS v BULLS, Port Elizabeth

    When: Saturday, 19:10
    Referee: Francisco Pastrana (Arg)
    TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD
    Commentators: Matthew Pearce and Owen Nkumane (Eng), John van Rensburg and Kobus Wiese (Afrik), Lonwabo Mtimka and Mzwandile Stick (Xho)
    Weather outlook: Cloudy and cool with showers, moderate breeze

    Background: A big incentive for the Bulls to come out on top at a buzzing Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium is that a convincing win might even take them top of the SA conference, if the Sharks have had another hiccup in their clash with the Cheetahs a little earlier. Mind you, they’ll gratefully bank a victory by a mere whisker, given the current competitiveness and iron determination of the Kings. This game serves as a bit of a homecoming celebration for the tourney newcomers, who easily exceeded expectations on their Australasian tour, but they may also discover – for the first time – just how tough it is to get up all over again on SA soil only a week on from the long-haul flight back. It is primarily on those grounds, though coupled with the greater street-wisdom of the three-time champions, that I fancy the Bulls to do the business. That said, in several positions there is surprisingly little to choose between the sides – and the Kings may even believe they can gain a vital edge at scrum time. The respective accuracy at the posts of Morne Steyn and Demetri Catrakilis could also go some way to determining which way this attractive first-time showdown goes.   

    Key head-to-head: Well, it’s hard to overlook the private duel between the rival captains, isn’t it? That’s especially when you link the name LUKE WATSON, given flashpoints past, to any clash with the team from the Highveld bastion of Afrikanerdom! But that old issue aside, Watson v PIERRE SPIES is a match-up of high-profile No 8s, even if they offer essentially different playing styles and physiques. The recent, short Bok camp may have served as an urgent reminder to Bulls skipper Spies that he needs some weighty performances over the next few weeks if he is to depose Duane Vermeulen as Test eighth-man. The brawny character may have an edge in stamina over Watson here, given that this is the latter’s first game back at Super Rugby level since his throat injury in the Kings’ opener against the Force. But the home-town skipper is a whole-hearted player nevertheless, and capable of key involvement both at the breakdown and as a skilful, peripherally-aware factor in attacking play.    

    Recent history between teams: Not applicable 

    Rob Houwing’s prediction: Bulls by four points

    SA GAME 2


    When: Saturday, 17:05
    Referee: Jonathon White (NZ)
    TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD
    Commentators: Hugh Bladen and Joel Stransky (Eng), Christo Olivier and Gary Boshoff (Afrik), Kaunda Ntunja and Makhaya Jack (Xho)
    Weather outlook: Cloudy, mild with rain, light breeze

    Background: This is a potentially dangerous little period for the conference-leading Sharks, as they badly need forward wrecking balls like Bismarck du Plessis and Willem Alberts to rejoin the fray; they’re such key elements of their go-forward intentions but it may only come midway through their tricky overseas leg. They have also been shaken up by several of their seasoned Springboks losing form and in some cases getting the chop. Things could go either way under the circumstances: John Plumtree’s near-radical changes could act as the required rocket up the posterior (my tip for this particular game) or spread uncertainty, nervousness and even disharmony through the broader ranks. As for the Cheetahs, they look the more cohesive and unified on paper at present, but also enter this fixture off a defeat and are still a fortnight away from their first bye: some of their core personnel may just be getting a bit jaded. My money’s surprisingly firmly on the Sharks, but I also don’t deny that if the visiting pack gets a good enough foothold in the “Tank”, the Cheetahs are quite capable of recording their first win over the Sharks in six Super Rugby meetings.

    Key head-to-head: There has been a bit of renewed debate lately around Sharks flyhalf PATRICK LAMBIE, for good and bad reasons. In the plus column, the Springbok has been banging over his goals with almost extraordinary efficiency – his 28 penalties thus far is a bigger tally than for any other place-kicker in the competition. But a tempering issue is the Sharks’ struggle to register tries, and there is a school of thought that Lambie is operating in the pocket a wee bit too much and not doing enough to spark action on that front. Still, if it’s a tight derby against the Cheetahs, maybe his goals will be all that matter to the home faithful once more. Meanwhile the visitors may not wish to depart too much from their traditional ball-in-hand approach (weather permitting), and Lambie’s opposite number BURTON FRANCIS will be expected to be a key link-man in that regard. He, too, has been generally crisp and cool-headed off the tee ... 

    Recent history:
    First-round encounter, Bloemfontein: Cheetahs 22 Sharks 29. Last season: Cheetahs 20 Sharks 34, Sharks 34 Cheetahs 15

    Rob Houwing’s prediction: Sharks by 12 points

    *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

    HAVE YOUR SAY: Do you agree with Rob Houwing's predictions for the two SA derbies in Round 10 of this year's Super Rugby tournament? Send your thoughts to Sport24.

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