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, has a hunch the Stormers will be an angry bunch in Pretoria on Saturday night after their anaemic display against the Sunwolves.
That might be enough, he reasons, to tilt the scales against old enemies the Bulls, even if his theory isn’t widely shared by his co-staffers … and certainly no one believes we will see a lopsided score-line like occurred in the first-round meeting at Newlands in February (33-9 to the Stormers).
The other two matches on SA soil on Saturday seem a little less precarious to tip, with the Sharks and Lions possibly both in with a crack at “full house” victories over the Kings and Jaguares respectively.
*Rob lies 6,181st out of about 195,000 contestants for Super Rugby predictions on SuperBru, with a current win success rate of 75%.
SPORT24 PICK OF THE CROP
BULLS v STORMERS, Pretoria
When: Saturday, 19:20
Referee: Ben O’Keeffe (NZ)
TV: M-Net, SS1
SuperSport commentators: Matthew Pearce & Joel Stransky (Eng), John van Rensburg & Kobus Wiese (Afrik), Kaunda Ntunja & Kaya Malotana (Xho)
Weather outlook: Partly cloudy, cool, light breeze
Background: This really is a perilous derby to call, and not just because only three points separate the protagonists at the top of their conference. A glance at the earlier clash in the opening round this year tells you that the Stormers romped home by three tries to nil at Newlands, but the young Bulls have matured a fair bit since then and the Loftus factor is not to be discounted for Nollis Marais’s charges. The main reason I am leaning slightly toward the Capetonians completing a 2016 double is their lamentable showing a week ago against the Sunwolves in Singapore – it was so bad that I anticipate a backlash of some substance and it could be forceful enough to break open the walls of Fortress Pretoria. Getting Springbok smoking gun Eben Etzebeth back into the second row (even if he may only last the pace for an hour or so on comeback from injury?) is huge for the Stormers in a traditionally bruising rivalry like this one. Still, the Bulls no doubt have a very different view, and will appreciate the urgency of ending that two-game losing streak at the end of their Aussie trip. Lose here and a group win will look increasingly unlikely for them. Don’t expect a flurry of tries; this could be decided by place-kicking accuracy. An influencer could also be the fate of certain attractive individual match-ups, like Jan Serfontein against Damian de Allende at No 12, how the Bok-aspirant Siya Kolisi fares at blindside flank in comparison with the Bulls’ fast-emerging Jannes Kirsten, and the meeting of two beefy characters in the scrums when Bulls tighthead Marcel van der Merwe packs down against Stormers No 1 Oli Kebble.
Key head-to-head: With Bismarck du Plessis now overseas-based, is the way finally clear for ADRIAAN STRAUSS to establish himself as the first-choice Test hooker? Indeed, if he is the chosen man, might that even extend to the Bok captaincy under new coach Allister Coetzee? I don’t think either matter is a cut and dried issue, so an especially forceful showing from the blond bomber in this key fixture could do him the power of good. But it won’t be a cakewalk against the Stormers’ tigerish BONGI MBONAMBI, preferred to Scarra Ntubeni (as flat as several other teammates in Singapore) this week and a player with a conspicuous habit of putting in a fiery shift against his former franchise. Bethlehem-born Mbonambi, who makes up in heart what he slightly lacks in the kilos department, isn’t far off the green-and-gold radar himself, so the stakes are pretty high.
Last result between sides: February 27, 2016: Stormers 33 Bulls 9 (Cape Town)
Sport24 staff predictions: Rob Houwing: Stormers by three; Garrin Lambley: Bulls by one; Herman Mostert: Bulls by three.
SA GAME 2
SHARKS v KINGS, Durban
When: Saturday, 17:10
Referee: Quinton Immelman (SA)
TV: M-Net, SS1
SuperSport commentators: Andy Capostagno & Hanyani Shimange (Eng), Christo Olivier & Ethienne Reynecke (Afrik), Alfred Mzizi & Lonwabo Mtimka (Xho)
Weather outlook: Clear, mild, moderate wind
Background: It has been a murderous few weeks across the planet for the Sharks, but with some deft tweaking to certain berths in the starting XV to combat fatigue and fuelled by the confidence of successive wins against the Hurricanes at home and then Jaguares away, I really can’t see any danger of a banana-peel day against the Kings in Durban. There is also the knowledge that a hiatus until July 2 is about to begin for them (they’ve a bye next weekend, ahead of the Test window month). No doubt Gary Gold will have reminded his charges, too, of the perils of falling into a complacency trap a la the Stormers last weekend! The Sharks thrashed the Kings by 35 points down the coast in the first-round fixture, so this ought to very comfortable once again – and probably accompanied by a bonus point. It could blow out a great deal, in fact, if the Kings can’t produce their traditional early-game resilience. One thing Sharks fans may wish to less of in this one? The team’s over-emphasis on staunch defence, as they are the second busiest set of tacklers in the competition, if stats are to be believed. Surely there’ll be more front-foot stuff from them here …
Key head-to-head: The last time the Sharks played at Kings Park, strapping No 12 ANDRE ESTERHUIZEN put in a monstrous physical effort both on attack and defence, going a long way to explaining their handsome victory over the Hurricanes a fortnight ago. He should be a big gain-line factor again in this one, and perhaps with more opportunity to prove he has some subtlety to go with muscle in offensive situations. His direct opponent, however, will be one of the more credible names in the injury-ravaged Kings’ ranks, senior backline marshal SHANE GATES who is unlikely to simply play “turnstile” whenever Esterhuizen charges at him.
Last result between sides: February 27, 2016: Kings 8 Sharks 43 (Port Elizabeth)
Sport24 staff predictions: Rob Houwing: Sharks by 22; Garrin Lambley: Sharks by 30; Herman Mostert: Sharks by 20.
SA GAME 3
LIONS v JAGUARES, Johannesburg
When: Saturday, 15:00
Referee: Stuart Berry (SA)
TV: M-Net, SS1
SuperSport commentators: Owen Nkumane & Robbie Kempson (Eng), Hennie Koortzen & Derick Hougaard (Afrik), Makhaya Jack & Lungelo Payi (Xho)
Weather outlook: Partly cloudy, cool, near-windless
Background: In short, the Jaguares look ripe for a plucking here. They threw everything – including a few teeth – at the Sharks last time out in Buenos Aires, and still it wasn’t quite enough. The suspension of their life-and-soul captain Agustin Creevy for this match does little to lift morale, I suspect, and if the Lions can start as rip-roaringly as they did against the Blues last weekend, we may even see the Argentineans unravel by an unusually wide margin on the Highveld. From a home point of view, Johan Ackermann’s charges should appreciate the anticipated firm and dry conditions (despite how dazzlingly they adapted to the soaking rain last weekend) and ought to do everything possible to avoid being dragged into a niggly sort of arm-wrestle with a desperate visiting crew. One possible danger is that the Lions are starting with a few decidedly fringe names, and the Jaguares may treat that as some sort of contemptuous statement!
Key head-to-head: It’s that time of year when debate over Springbok berths is getting more and more airtime, and in that regard FAF DE KLERK will be mindful that a performance oozing with X-factor here will take him key steps closer to that uncertain Test jersey of scrumhalf. He hasn’t always been starting for the Lions of late, with Ross Cronje getting good exposure to their No 9 shirt too, so must take full advantage of another team-up with fellow Bok candidate Elton Jantjies in this one. He won’t have things automatically his way against the Jaguares’ personable acting captain and Pumas Test veteran MARTIN LANDAJO, so it’s a good examination of his claims to higher honours.
Last result between sides: No prior meetings
Sport24 staff predictions: Rob Houwing: Lions by 14; Garrin Lambley: Lions by 13; Herman Mostert: Lions by 13.
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