Lions to paint the town ‘Red’

    2017-03-17 09:15

    Cape Town – Sport24 chief writer Rob Houwing, in the fourth of his regular South African-focused Super Rugby previews this year, feels the Lions will see off the Reds with something to spare in Johannesburg on Saturday evening.

    They have filtered back several of their core personnel who either didn’t go to Buenos Aires at all for the loss to the Jaguares, or didn’t start, and all of the Sport24 regular forecasters have Johan Ackermann’s charges winning by more than a converted try margin – weekly columnist Mark Keohane concurs, going “10 points-plus” himself in his earlier video preview.

    In what arguably amounts to an unhealthy sign that too many make-up-the-numbers teams have been introduced to the once incomparable tournament in recent times, our panel crow unanimously that the Bulls will whip the Sunwolves and the Sharks make paupers of the Kings.

    But there is also a full house in suggesting the Cheetahs, with a wishy-washy starting line-up, will not get any joy in Argentina.

    *Rob picked the results of six of last weekend’s eight games correctly on SuperBru, giving him a season record thus far of 18/26 (almost 70 percent).


    LIONS v REDS, Johannesburg

    When: Saturday, 17:15

    Referee: Mike Fraser (NZ)

    SuperSport commentators: Owen Nkumane & Hanyani Shimange (Eng), John van Rensburg & Ethienne Reynecke (Afrik), Alfred Mzizi & Sindile Mayende (Xho)

    Weather outlook: Partly cloudy, warm, light breeze

    Background: The Lions beat another Aussie outfit, the Waratahs, by 19 points last time they played at Emirates Airline Park. On either side of it, last season’s silver medallists were altogether less impressive in away matches in Bloemfontein and Buenos Aires. Summer rain appears to have largely gone away from Jo’burg now, suggesting the kind of hard and fast surface for the Reds meeting which Warren Whiteley’s men thrive on. They deserve to be fairly clear-cut favourites against the Queenslanders, the now-faded 2011 champions, even if there are still certain surnames in the visiting ranks not to be taken lightly. The Reds have had to travel across the Indian Ocean soon after that agonising post-siren defeat to the Crusaders. Whether it has demoralised them or doubled their resolve for this date in the Big Smoke could be an influencer on the outcome here. But the Lions have far more of an “A-team” look about themselves again; they’ll have to be well off colour to lose. 

    Key head-to-head: Interesting developments in the hooker’s spot for both teams this week. Whereas the Lions return their traditionally first-choice MALCOLM MARX to the starting side (seeing Robbie Coetzee curtailed to the reserves) for this one, the Reds go the other way by favouring ANDREW READY for the No 2 jersey ahead of the veteran Wallaby Stephen Moore! If Marx is to fight his way to premier Bok hooker this year, he needs to cement his spot in the Lions XV, where his lineout throwing is rather anxiously scrutinised; we know he hardly lacks rugged menace in general play. The sturdy, 23-year-old Ready warrants a crack for the Reds: some 11 years his senior in the squad, the 117 Test-capped Moore can’t be expected in his relatively “twilight” phase to begin every battle. Still, bet on this proud combatant being seriously revved-up when uncaged in the second half.

    Last result between sides: March 27, 2015: Reds 17 Lions 18 (Brisbane)

    Sport24 staff predictions: Rob Houwing: Lions by 15; Garrin Lambley: Lions by 10; Herman Mostert: Lions by 14; Lloyd Burnard: Lions by 12.

    SA GAME 2

    SHARKS v KINGS, Durban

    When: Saturday, 19:30

    Referee: Egon Seconds (SA)

    SuperSport commentators: Andy Capostagno & Robbie Kempson (Eng), Hennie Koortzen & Toks van der Linde (Afrik), Lungelo Payi & Makhaya Jack (Xho)

    Weather outlook: Cloudy, warm, stiff breeze

    Background: Well, for a while the Kings knocked the visiting Stormers well off their stride in PE last Saturday … but then their inferior depth and quality, barring some notable individuals, came painfully home to roost once again. The same should happen in this latest coastal derby, with the Sharks on a mini-roll and hotly tipped to earn a full house against the Eastern Cape crew. That said, the Sharks are resting some stalwarts, so various new positional combinations may require a bit of time to click. If there was to be an unlikely banana-peel occurrence at Kings Park, you’d imagine the breakdown would have something to do with it; the visitors’ tireless No 6 Chris Cloete is bossing that area, and the favourites don’t look too well-geared to respond suitably – not with big Jacques Vermeulen asked to patrol the open-side, a bit out of his more favoured habitat. But remember that the Sharks stuffed the Kings both times last season, notching 14 tries to one (yup, that’s 14-1) in doing so. Just keeping things a fair bit tighter would be a triumph of sorts for the underdogs.

    Key head-to-head: I expected Curwin Bosch to stay at pivot, where he deputised so beautifully for luckless Pat Lambie once the Bok cried off last weekend, for this fixture. Instead, though, the versatile Bosch cuts a starting nod at fullback from coach Robert du Preez, and there’s an intriguing debut at this level for BENHARD JANSE VAN RENSBURG at No 10. This 20-year-old from Thabazimbi has solid characters around him to ease the way, like scrumhalf Cobus Reinach and robust inside centre Andre Esterhuizen. But his rival in the flyhalf channel, much-travelled LIONEL CRONJE, knows a handy bit about the broad Sharks culture from his time in Durban between 2014 and 2015 and will doubtless try to impose himself on the rookie …

    Last result between sides: May 21, 2016: Sharks 53 Kings 0 (Durban)

    Sport24 staff predictions: Rob Houwing: Sharks by 28; Garrin Lambley: Sharks by 31; Herman Mostert: Sharks by 30; Lloyd Burnard: Sharks by 15.

    SA GAME 3

    BULLS v SUNWOLVES, Pretoria

    When: Friday, 19:00

    Referee: Jamie Nutbrown (NZ)

    SuperSport commentators: Matthew Pearce & Warren Brosnihan (Eng), Ockert van Schalkwyk & Bennie Nortje (Afrik), Alfred Mzizi & Sindile Mayende (Xho)

    Weather outlook: Clear, warm, windless

    Background: The Bulls have had a handy (in some ways) fortnight to lick their wounds after successive away derby defeats to open their season. Needless to say, winning is simply non-negotiable here … frankly, it would be a bit of a “Brighton revisited” if the result goes any other way. Two games on the trot in thin Highveld air may take a progressive toll on the limited Sunwolves even if they’ve been resilient initially. In addition, the Bulls have attractive impact options off the bench for a really major second-half onslaught, with Adriaan Strauss and Jannes Kirsten itching to finally be let loose in 2017. Mind you, someone like the admirably beavering Edgar Marutlulle, getting a welcome start at hooker, may not be keen to be yanked off too early. Perhaps it won’t be as one-sided as the 50-3 outcome (and seven tries to nil) at Loftus last season, but all of the Sport24 tipsters see the home side prevailing by anywhere between 20-40 points … 

    Key head-to-head: It’s good to see JAN SERFONTEIN among the injury-rehabbed stars at Loftus filtering back into the mix for this one. The talented Springbok midfielder -- still only 23, remember – gets a start at outside centre, even if this writer is among those firmly believing No 12 is easily his more suitable berth. Still, Burger Odendaal is useful in that channel and Serfontein may need to thrive in the wider position before he can lay claim to moving closer in again. Direct rival to the Bok is New Zealand-born JAMIE-JERRY TAULAGI, generally more familiar to a back-three job. His defensive mettle may well be tested if the Bulls are suitably fast and urgent …

    Last result between sides: July 9, 2016: Bulls 50 Sunwolves 3 (Pretoria)

    Sport24 staff predictions: Rob Houwing: Bulls by 39; Garrin Lambley: Bulls by 33; Herman Mostert: Bulls by 30; Lloyd Burnard: Bulls by 20.

    SA GAME 4

    JAGUARES v CHEETAHS, Buenos Aires

    When: Saturday, 21:40

    Referee: Paul Williams (NZ)

    SuperSport commentators (off-tube): Hugh Bladen & Warren Brosnihan (Eng), Ockert van Schalkwyk & Werner Swanepoel (Afrik), Kaunda Ntunja & Kaya Malotana (Xho)

    Weather outlook: Clear, mild, light breeze

    Background: It’s becoming dangerously fashionable, it seems, for South African teams to field noticeably weakened combos away to the Jaguares. Deep down, and although you’d naturally never get them to admit it, are coaches like Johan Ackermann of the Lions and the Cheetahs’ Franco Smith effectively prepared to risk “taking the hit” in faraway Buenos Aires and spare the bulk of their exertions for other matches just up the drag in kinder time-zones? Use it, don’t use it! Certainly the side from Bloemfontein look at their weakest on paper – in terms of the starting XV – since the start of the campaign, even if injuries also play a significant part in explaining it. Buoyed by beating last season’s runners-up last Saturday, the Jaguares will believe another victory over the Cheetahs is hugely attainable. They won a remarkable, knife-edge maiden encounter between the two last season 34-33 in the Free State. It was a game characterised by the unusual hallmark of the hosts getting all of the first four tries … but the Argentineans, crucially, all of the last four!  

    Key head-to-head: With the Cheetahs fielding a few rookies here, senior figures like Bok flanker OUPA MOHOJE will be asked to lift their games as compensation. It is also a chance for the blind-sider, up against the fine young Pumas international ball-carrier PABLO MATERA, to lay a ghost or two to rest – Mohoje was in the Springbok starting XV which lost 26-24 to Argentina, with the 111kg Matera often to the fore, in Salta last season. The Cheetahs stalwart will be a key part of their lineout plans against the Jaguares as well.   

    Last result between sides: February 26, 2016: Cheetahs 33 Jaguares 34 (Bloemfontein)

    Sport24 staff predictions: Rob Houwing: Jaguares by 18; Garrin Lambley: Jaguares by 11; Herman Mostert: Jaguares by 10; Lloyd Burnard: Jaguares by 10.  

    *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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    Friday, 31 January 2020
    • Blues v Chiefs, Eden Park 08:05
    • Brumbies v Reds, GIO Stadium 10:15
    • Sharks v Bulls, Jonsson Kings Park Stadium 19:10
    Saturday, 01 February 2020
    • Sunwolves v Rebels, Fukuoka Hakatanomori Stadium 05:45
    • Crusaders v Waratahs, Trafalgar Park 08:05
    • Stormers v Hurricanes, Cape Town 15:05
    • Jaguares v Lions, Estadio Jose Amalfitani 23:40
    Friday, 07 February 2020
    • Highlanders v Sharks, Forsyth Barr Stadium 08:05
    • Brumbies v Rebels, GIO Stadium 10:15


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