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    Sharks to be too steely in Cape

    2013-04-12 09:26
    John Plumtree (Gallo Images)
    Cape Town - Sport24 chief writer Rob Houwing, in his regular South African Super Rugby preview, tips wins for the Sharks and Bulls in the big South African derby double-header on Saturday.

    SPORT24 PICK OF THE CROP

    STORMERS v SHARKS, Cape Town


    When: Saturday, 17:05
    Referee: Craig Joubert (SA)
    TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD
    Commentators: Matthew Pearce and Hanyani Shimange (Eng); Christo Olivier and Kobus Wiese (Afrik); Kaunda Ntunja and Makhaya Jack (Xho)
    Long-range weather outlook: Clear, warm, light breeze

    Background: Jean de Villiers insisted to me at a media briefing this week that the under-the-cosh Stormers won’t be mentally scarred against the Sharks from the last-gasp Bloemfontein loss, where they put in enough energy to edge it, yet didn’t. “The fact is we let it slip. If you look at it holistically ... we really gave away two tries to them (Cheetahs). It was very close; we’re not playing bad rugby ... we just need to step it up, stop the crucial errors.” It was hard to argue with his theory, and it does make for another potentially nail-biting tussle with the Durban visitors. If the Stormers, badly missing a slightly bigger tally of hardened characters than the Sharks are, can hold their own up front, of course a revitalising win is possible. But I also suspect that the conference leaders come to Newlands knowing that their overall match 22 contains more oomph and experience, and if they get a forward foothold, someone like Pat Lambie could pull particularly havoc-wreaking strings. Remember that opposite number at flyhalf, Gary van Aswegen, remains dangerously ring-rusty at this level right now.

    Key head-to-head: The Stormers had arguably done enough to squeeze out a precious, badly-needed victory in Cheetahs country last weekend ... and then came that disastrous late scrum! In an attacking position, they somehow managed to be shoved off the ball and concede a tighthead heel; the rest is history. So their scrummaging is under scrutiny once more, with young loosehead prop STEVEN KITSHOFF urged by pack coach Matthew Proudfoot to pick up his performance at the set-piece (he’s a dynamo elsewhere). Mind you, his direct opponent JANNIE DU PLESSIS, the veteran Bok tighthead, has also been playing below his best of late, so there’s suitable pressure on both bull-necked specimens. Who gets the edge could have a biggish say in the outcome.

    Recent history: Sharks won 12-6 in March 2 first-round clash at Kings Park. 2012 results: Stormers 15 Sharks 12, Sharks 25 Stormers 20. Semi-final: Stormers 19 Sharks 26. 

    Rob Houwing’s prediction: Sharks by six points

    SA GAME 2

    BULLS v CHEETAHS, Pretoria


    When: Saturday, 19:10
    Referee: Jason Jaftha (SA)
    TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD
    Commentators: Hugh Bladen and Joel Stransky (Eng); Hennie Koortzen and Toks van der Linde (Afrik); Lonwabo Mtika and Kaya Malotana (Xho)
    Long-range weather outlook: Partly cloudy, possible drizzle, light breeze

    Background: Earlier this week, I was leaning a little toward the Cheetahs extending their fairytale run and winning at Loftus. But while it is true that they have a good chance of toppling the Bulls – the teams look strikingly well matched on paper – they traditionally do not leave that intimidating venue victorious in Super Rugby. In fact, they are often quite soundly beaten. Refreshed by a bye weekend (a hopeful Free State view would be that it can make teams stale!) the Bulls will be desperate to build a head of steam, as their record stands at three wins and three losses so far. Sooner or later the Cheetahs, with their less than swollen squad depth, are bound to taste defeat again because intensity in this marathon competition inevitably rises and dips, rises and dips. A gut feel is that they will succumb to the Bulls, possibly even missing out on a losing bonus point.  

    Key head-to-head: A particularly enthralling match-up at Loftus is the duel at inside centre between the Bulls’ 2012 IRB Junior World Championship star JAN SERFONTEIN, who is getting a pleasing run of first-team opportunities to adapt to the demands of Super Rugby, and the visitors’ considerably more experienced (though still only 24 himself) ROBERT EBERSOHN – a highly prominent figure in the Cheetahs’ record-breaking sequence of wins in the 2013 competition. Straight after Saturday’s toe-to-toe, the pair will be on the same side, as it were, when they deservedly take part in an early Springbok training camp in Cape Town from Sunday. 

    Recent history: No prior meetings in 2013. Last season: Cheetahs 19 Bulls 51, Bulls 40 Cheetahs 24.

    Rob Houwing’s prediction: Bulls by nine points

    SA GAME 3

    REBELS v KINGS, Melbourne


    When: Saturday, 11:40 (SA time)
    Referee: Andrew Lees (Aus)
    TV: SS1, CSN, SHD
    Commentators: Australian panel
    Long-range weather outlook: Partly cloudy, warm, moderate breeze

    Background: Make no mistake, if the Kings can reproduce even 80 percent of the sort of commitment and verve displayed in that fine draw with the Brumbies, they’ll be in strong contention in this one. I just have a nagging little suspicion that the Rebels will be right up for this clash, after a welcome triumph over the Force in Perth, and be anxious to only stabilise further with a home follow-up win. Overseas conquests don’t just grow on trees, and this is the Kings’ energy-testing fourth game on tour. My head tells me the Rebels will edge it, something the bookies appear to concur with. The heart wishes otherwise, of course ... and there’s no denying the Eastern Cape side have abundant collective “ticker”. 

    Key head-to-head: The Kings’ livewire CORNELL DU PREEZ and his fellow merry, uncompromising men in the loose trio were all crucial architects of the rousing performance in Canberra, with the No 8 romping over for two personal tries (including that levelling one, well after the siren). The 106kg Du Preez comes up against a kindred spirit in the no-nonsense stakes when Wallaby stalwart SCOTT HIGGINBOTHAM leads the Rebels’ cause in this fixture because of regular skipper Gareth Delve reportedly sitting out another week. Apart from his physical relish, he is also a lineout master, so Du Preez knows he has his hands pretty full.

    Recent history: Not applicable

    Rob Houwing’s prediction: Rebels by five points

    *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

    HAVE YOUR SAY: Do you agree with Rob Houwing's predictions? Will the Sharks beat the Stormers at Newlands? What about the Bulls v Cheetahs clash? Will the Kings end their Australasian tour on a high? Send your thoughts to Sport24.

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