Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – Sport24 chief writer Rob Houwing, in the next of his regular South African-focused Vodacom Super Rugby previews this year, suspects the Lions have enough quality “ammo” left in their ranks to overcome inconvenient injury setbacks and narrowly outwit the Bulls in Pretoria.
Meanwhile further south, the beleaguered Stormers should earn a first triumph in four fixtures when they host the Cheetahs at Newlands – failure to do so and it would really be crisis time and “back to square one” for Robbie Fleck’s charges, wouldn’t it?
Alas, the Kings ought to play second fiddle in the only SA-relevant match featuring overseas opponents this weekend, as the Jaguares will cash in on the Port Elizabeth team’s alarming, growing absentees list.
*Rob lies 10,652nd out of about 196,000 contestants for Super Rugby predictions on SuperBru, with a current win success rate of 76%.
SPORT24 PICK OF THE CROP
BULLS v LIONS, Pretoria
When: Saturday, 17:05
Referee: Craig Joubert (SA)
TV: M-Net, SS1
SuperSport commentators: Owen Nkumane & Joel Stransky (Eng), Hennie Koortzen & Werner Swanepoel (Afrik), Kaunda Ntunja & Kaya Malotana (Xho)
Weather outlook: Partly cloudy, mild, calm
Background: Still unbeaten at Loftus after an impressive five games there so far, the Bulls seem a reasonably safe bet on that basis to stretch the run further against the Lions. And after being wrong about a predicted Stormers triumph at the venue last weekend, I suppose I should really restore “sanity”. But I’m riskily sticking with the away side again this weekend, even if this shapes as an either-way sort of affair. For one thing, maybe the absence of Elton Jantjies, the head chef in so many fine Lions confectionaries this year, is being overstated as an impediment. Of course his injury is a blow (to the Springboks too) and yes, Marnitz Boshoff is a different, less subtle stand-in. But isn’t that under-estimating the broader way in which the Lions have matured and prospered this season? They have proper quality in plenty of other positions, and just for one thing won’t be quaking too much at the prospect of putting their set-piece into action against the Bulls. My other reasoning behind the Jo’burgers sneaking it at Loftus is that the hosts come off another punishing all-SA affair just a week earlier, whereas the Lions had it easier and more fluid against the Jaguares. Still, a Bulls victory wouldn’t surprise me, either, and the Sport24 forecasters are split smack down the middle on this potential sizzler.
Key head-to-head: It’s funny how the wheel turns: by the end of 2015 everyone was raving about the budding Bok midfield alliance between Damian de Allende and JESSE KRIEL. But the former has laboured more than we expected since his return from injury in the Cape and the latter more often than not outshone by the Lions’ sublime LIONEL MAPOE in the No 13 channel during Super Rugby. Mapoe has probably got the outside centre berth nailed down already for the first Bok side of the year, but if Kriel puts up a suitably defiant, polished performance in their direct clash on Saturday, he will remind that he is still “thereabouts” … and perhaps still a possibility ahead of Willie le Roux at fullback?
Last result between sides: May 2, 2015: Bulls 35 Lions 33 (Pretoria)
Sport24 staff predictions: Rob Houwing: Lions by two; Garrin Lambley: Bulls by one; Herman Mostert: Bulls by three; Lloyd Burnard: Lions by four
SA GAME 2
STORMERS v CHEETAHS, Cape Town
When: Saturday, 15:00
Referee: Glen Jackson (NZ)
TV: M-Net, SS1
SuperSport commentators: Matthew Pearce & Bob Skinstad (Eng), Gerrie Scheepers & Kobus Wiese (Afrik), Makhaya Jack & Lungelo Payi (Xho)
Weather outlook: Clear, mild, near windless
Background: Traditionally the Cheetahs simply don’t win at Newlands! But that doesn’t mean jinxes aren’t there to be broken, and the team from the interior will feel they have just a sniff given the Stormers’ anaemic recent form. They will also have noted the rare chaos that engulfed the Capetonians’ set-pieces at Loftus last Saturday. Particularly at lineout time, they have the tall timber at lock plus Oupa Mohoje’s ability nearer the back to feel pretty confident of a good contest there. There are also some rookie figures in the Stormers’ backline this week – including the two Du Plessis cousins, one of them on debut – to give visiting captain Francois Venter a sense that they could be vulnerable to ball-in-hand attack. All that said, the Stormers should be capable of grinding this one out (again, quality of execution may prove a secondary concern under tense conference circumstances) and I like the opportunity strong-running Sikhumbuzo Notshe has to show off his skills again from the No 8 spot. His defence-splitting qualities came to the fore in the earlier Bloemfontein clash.
Key head-to-head: Expect both big second-row units to be safely installed in the Springbok squad not long after the finish of this game. But if LOOD DE JAGER is going to stave off losing his place in the actual Test starting XV, he probably needs a monumental showing against Bok buddy EBEN ETZEBETH in the hugely appealing clash of the No 4s. De Jager, of course, needs to care more about how Pieter-Steph du Toit fares very nearby on Saturday, as he is fancied to wrestle away De Jager’s Bok No 5 shirt. Still, the Cheetahs’ pack kingpin will have seen on video how RG Snyman and company disrupted the Stormers line-out last weekend and, in tandem with experienced Francois Uys, attempt a repeat dose. Etzebeth, for his part, will wish to be more assertive than in his comeback 40 minutes in Pretoria … and no doubt earmarked for much nearer an hour on the park this time.
Last result between sides: March 5, 2016: Cheetahs 10 Stormers 20 (Bloemfontein)
Sport24 staff predictions: Rob Houwing: Stormers by 11; Garrin Lambley: Stormers by 12; Herman Mostert: Stormers by eight; Lloyd Burnard: Stormers by 16
SA GAME 3
KINGS v JAGUARES, Port Elizabeth
When: Friday, 19:00
Referee: Nick Briant (NZ)
TV: M-Net, SS1
SuperSport commentators: Owen Nkumane & Warren Brosnihan (Eng), John van Rensburg & Derick Hougaard (Afrik), Alfred Mzizi & Lonwabo Mtimka (Xho)
Weather outlook: Clear, mild, light breeze
Background: Both teams will be fragile after respective thumpings from the Sharks and Lions last weekend, and you wonder what sort of Friday night crowd will turn out at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium to see a meeting of two sides who have won a paltry three of 22 matches between them. Home advantage may mean something, but the Kings are worse affected by injuries at present so really on bare bones staffing-wise. Also to be considered is that one of the two Jaguares victories this season came against these very foes in Buenos Aires – and they ran in 11 tries in doing so, going a long way to explaining why the Eastern Cape side have leaked a wretched 71 in total. With “defence” like that, it is difficult to consider the Kings favourites, sadly …
Key head-to-head: Both sides gladly welcome back key players in the shape of EDGAR MARUTLULLE (Kings) and AGUSTIN CREEVY (Jaguares) … which also means we get a very decent match-up in the hooker berth. If bright-as-a-button Marutlulle, having recovered from illness, is seen as a possible Bok back-up hooker this season – whether in Allister Coetzee’s maiden squad on Saturday or deeper into the Test campaign – this is another instructive examination of his credentials against one of the best and most combative No 2s on the planet. Creevy sat out one match, suspended for his role in a dangerous tackle of Jean Deysel recently, and can be expected to breathe customary fire after the involuntary layoff. He’ll shore up the Jaguares’ scrum quite nicely, too.
Last result between sides: April 30, 2016: Jaguares 73 Kings 27 (Buenos Aires)
Sport24 staff predictions: Rob Houwing: Jaguares by 17; Garrin Lambley: Jaguares by 21; Herman Mostert: Jaguares by seven; Lloyd Burnard: Jaguares by 10
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