Stormers to scrum way home

    2015-04-24 12:07

    Cape Town - Sport24 chief writer Rob Houwing, in the 11th of his regular South African-focused Super Rugby previews this year, expects the Stormers to extend their Newlands winning streak over arch-rivals the Bulls to four on Saturday - but with the visitors in it to the final whistle.

    A more clear-cut result, he suggests, should be the Lions overcoming an injury-plagued Cheetahs outfit in the other local derby this weekend, to maintain their gutsy playoffs challenge at least for the moment.


    STORMERS v BULLS, Cape Town

    When: Saturday, 19:10

    Referee: Jaco Peyper (SA)

    TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD

    SuperSport commentators: Matthew Pearce & Bob Skinstad (Eng), Hennie Koortzen & Kobus Wiese (Afrik), Lonwabo Mtimka & Lungelo Payi (Xho)

    Weather outlook: Partly cloudy, mild, light breeze

    Background: Just how much is the wisdom of the respective selections going to be a factor in determining who wins this top-of-conference derby between old adversaries? I reckon it could play a part. For instance, have the Stormers done the right thing by fielding ex-Bull Bongi Mbonambi at hooker ahead of long-time first-choice Scarra Ntubeni? Or Frans Malherbe at tighthead prop at the expense of Vincent Koch, probably the front-row scrummaging revelation of the SA season thus far? As for the Bulls, was it right to leave utility man Francois Hougaard at wing to allow for the inclusion of Piet van Zyl as scrumhalf replacement for the injured Rudy Paige? And how about Jan Serfontein returning at inside centre after his stand-in Burger Odendaal damn near dazzled in a few appearances there? At the end of the day, common sense probably tells all but the most diehard of Bulls fans that the Stormers are slight favourites. They will be playing in front of a passionate, virtual full house at Newlands, have already seen off these foes in their own backyard this season, and not lost to them at home since the 2011 season. The home scrum is also a device not to be under-valued ... against a side often a tad suspect in that department. That said, of course the visitors have a fighting chance, not least because Handre Pollard gives them greater potential oomph in the key flyhalf channel (not to mention healthy range with his place kicks), whilst the Stormers are fielding a pretty makeshift back three on the day. It ought to be tight, with whichever side plays second fiddle at least earning a useful losing “BP” ...   

    Key head-to-head: There’s a tidy 6-2 advantage to the Bulls in Springbok experience among the respective backlines, even if the likes of JJ Engelbrecht, Bjorn Basson and Van Zyl are now reasonably peripheral in Heyneke Meyer’s plans. So the Stormers will be mightily keen for one of their own, the seriously in-form DAMIAN DE ALLENDE at No 12, to be influential once more when he encounters the Bulls’ slightly rusty, just-recovered JAN SERFONTEIN. When Bok captain Jean de Villiers got his major knee injury in Cardiff late last year, you might have expected Serfontein to be favourite to shift inside from No 13 for the start of the next Test season. But such has been De Allende’s all-round wizardry in Super Rugby that he ought to have nipped ahead in the race for the twelve jersey soon. Here is a glorious chance for former Baby Bok maestro Serfontein to rekindle his claims against that very foe after a few rather static performances for his franchise ahead of his hip injury-related layoff. Some other tasty duels: Eben Etzebeth v Flip van der Merwe; the general meeting of two sets of particularly beefy starting props; Duane Vermeulen v Pierre Spies; Cheslin Kolbe v Jesse Kriel ... and more.

    Last result between sides: February 14, 2015: Bulls 17 Stormers 29 (Pretoria)

    Rob Houwing’s prediction: Stormers by six points

    SA GAME 2

    LIONS v CHEETAHS, Johannesburg

    When: Saturday, 17:05

    Referee: Jaco van Heerden (SA)

    TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD

    SuperSport commentators: Owen Nkumane & Joel Stransky (Eng), Gerrie Scheepers & Werner Swanepoel (Afrik), Kaunda Ntunja & Makhaya Jack (Xho)

    Weather outlook: Partly cloudy, mild, light breeze

    Background: Let’s clear up one thing: I don’t expect the Lions to have it as easy this time as the last occasion when they played the Cheetahs in good ole Doornfontein ... then it was in the last round of ordinary-season of 2014, and the hosts romped to a 60-25 win. It was eight tries to three and Lionel Mapoe bagged a hat-trick. With rather more of the current season still to play, I doubt the visitors will be quite as dishevelled as they were on that occasion. Indeed, with such a weakened line-up you may find that a spirit of real defiance takes root among Naka Drotske’s unheralded charges, at least for a good chunk of the match. Yet the dice still seems loaded against them, what with the Lions fully aware – surely? – what a torpedo to the hull any upset loss in the fixture would be to their finals series dreams. Has the bye weekend blunted them for fluency just a bit? It is always possible, but the Lions have been a yeoman, 80-minute team for many of the last few weeks and with great conditioning into the bargain. Both sides have had some scrum issues of late, but the Cheetahs front row looks particularly vulnerable as presently constituted. Warren Whiteley and company to triumph by a double-figure margin!

    Key head-to-head: I’d suggest not nipping out to the fridge or kettle whilst either of the scrumhalves in this Highveld derby – FAF DE KLERK of the Lions and his Cheetahs counterpart SAREL PRETORIUS – is on the ball and with a devious glint of solo intent in his eyes. Both these No 9s are true game-breakers when on best attacking song, and a veritable nightmare to police. De Klerk is starting to recapture the form that saw him burst onto the scene last year, and keeping out Ross Cronje. As for Pretorius, whose first-up defence is still a bit of an issue at times, he assumes additional importance for the underdogs for X-factor here, given the absence of so many regular first-choicers. He’d love it if this match became wild and woolly ... I’m just not sure the still-contending Lions will necessarily allow that.

    Last result between sides: July 12, 2014: Lions 60 Cheetahs 25 (Johannesburg)

    Rob Houwing’s prediction: Lions by 11 points

    *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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