Bulls to see off Shark attack
Cape Town - Sport24 chief writer Rob Houwing, in his regular South African Super Rugby preview, predicts wins for both the Bulls and Cheetahs in appetising SA derbies, strengthening their respective playoffs quests.
SPORT24 PICK OF THE CROP
SHARKS v BULLS, Durban
When: Saturday, 19:10
Referee: Jonathan Kaplan (SA)
TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD
SuperSport commentators: Hugh Bladen and Gcobani Bobo (Eng), John van Rensburg and Breyton Paulse (Afrik), Makhaya Jack and Kaunda Ntunja (Xho)
Weather outlook: Clear, warm, light breeze
Background: If you’re a neutral South African watching this mouth-watering feature game of the packed domestic Saturday, you may well be a little inclined to want the Bulls to successfully raid the Shark Tank, thus greatly enhancing the chance of the side from Loftus getting a favourable, home-dominated list of assignments in the knockout phase. Whether it will happen is quite another matter, especially as there is no 2013 form guide between these two: both their derby clashes come unusually late in ordinary season. The Sharks still have a bit of a playoffs sniff, and their overdue win against the Force in Perth has put their tails up and makes them dangerous foes to Pierre Spies’s consistently winning crew at this juncture. It could go either way on what is tipped to be an idyllic KZN autumn evening, but recent form and the fact that the Bulls are much nearer fullest strength sways me reasonably confidently toward the visitors ...
Key head-to-head: Especially with Beast Mtawarira back (though a bit short of a gallop?), the Sharks are much closer again to their desired maximum-impact physicality. This has been helped in no small measure by the progressive return to full fitness of big blindside bruiser WILLEM ALBERTS, who will be expected to take on the Bulls at their own uncompromising game. Although a slightly different animal in build terms, the visitors’ own No 7 DEWALD POTGIETER has impressed me hugely in recent weeks with his unrelenting, frenzied work-rate and visibility.
Recent history between teams: 2012: Bulls 18 Sharks 13; Sharks 32 Bulls 10
Rob Houwing’s prediction: Bulls by seven points
SA GAME 2
KINGS v CHEETAHS, Port Elizabeth
When: Saturday, 15:00
Referee: Stuart Berry (SA)
TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD
SuperSport commentators: Gavin Cowley and Joel Stransky (Eng), Christo Olivier and Derick Hougaard (Afrik), Peter Bacela and Kaya Malotana (Xho)
Weather outlook: Partly cloudy, warm, light breeze
Background: When these teams met in Bloemfontein for the very first time in the competition back on April 27, the ambitious Cheetahs prevailed by a comfortable enough 14-point margin. Most pundits will understandably have them as favourites again for the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium return fixture, although an upset cannot be ruled out at all. If the Cheetahs do trip up unexpectedly here it will be a hammer blow, frankly, to their quest for maiden playoffs activity. Meanwhile a big motivator for the Kings, perhaps, is the fact that pulling this one off might cause some ripples in the Stormers camp and on the Newlands terraces ahead of their later kick-off against the Reds: they’d be within only one or two points of the Capetonian “giants” at the bottom of the conference table ...
Key head-to-head: One of the most slippery South African customers at scrumhalf during the current Super Rugby campaign, the Cheetahs’ PIET VAN ZYL can count himself a little unlucky not to have made the cut for Heyneke Meyer’s latest expanded Springbok squad. I imagine he will be a man on a mission in PE as a result ... although the in-form No 9 may not have things all his own way as an attacking factor as Kings opposite number SHAUN VENTER also needs a fair bit of policing, doesn’t he? Venter has been playing well enough to keep Pumas Test stalwart Nicolas Vergallo mostly confined to the bench.
Recent history between teams: 2013 first-round meeting: Cheetahs 26 Kings 12
Rob Houwing’s prediction: Cheetahs by eight points
SA GAME 3
STORMERS v REDS, Cape Town
When: Saturday, 17:05
Referee: Jaco Peyper (SA)
TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD
SuperSport commentators: Matthew Pearce and Bob Skinstad (Eng), Hennie Koortzen and Kobus Wiese (Afrik), Lonwabo Mtimka and Mzwandile Stick (Xho)
Weather outlook: Cloudy, chance of light rain, gentle breeze
Background: Perhaps it was because his oft-undesired 50th birthday was only a day away (mine’s not too far behind), but on Wednesday Stormers coach Allister Coetzee bristled when I mentioned the word “relegation” as something his vulnerable, injury-dogged charges possibly needed to keep at least in the back of their minds at this stage of the season. As things stand, it is true they have a reasonable cushion between their fourth on the conference log and the Kings’ wooden-spoon status, but some cats could yet be set among pigeons despite the Stormers’ insistence not to even contemplate those scheduled “drop” games against the Lions yet. Purely on paper, this week’s visitors the Reds arguably look a little more cohesive than the necessarily remodelled home team, who will feature some notably raw characters among more proven soldiers in the match 22. But if the Stormers can dig deep enough, and still command a loyal roar from the Newlands faithful despite their ailing campaign, a gut feel says they’ll win. Mind you, I’ve made plenty of wrong calls both ways for Stormers games this year!
Key head-to-head: If ever ELTON JANTJIES wanted to persuade the Newlands public that he is worth signing up on a longer-term basis from the Lions, here is a golden opportunity to show his best levels of verve after a slightly iffy first few months in the Stormers’ fold. After all, he will be attempting to pull influential strings against a certain QUADE COOPER, one of the most mercurial and instinctive characters you could wish to see in a No 10 jersey. Of late, Jantjies has shown some signs that he is feeling more confident again in his own skin, following the early-season loss of his father which by all accounts affected him very badly.
Recent history between teams: 2012: Reds 13 Stormers 23; 2011: Stormers 6 Reds 19
Rob Houwing’s prediction: Stormers by four points
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