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    Tough trek … but Lions by a nose!

    2017-03-10 11:15

    Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

    Cape Town – Sport24 chief writer Rob Houwing, in the third of his regular South African-focused Super Rugby previews this year, warily believes the Lions, missing some regular personnel, will be stretched to the limit but might just have the wiles to repel the Jaguares in Buenos Aires on Saturday.

    In an indication of how hazardous that clash is to call, however, our resident pundits at locked at 2-2 over which way they feel it will tilt. (Outspoken Sport24 freelance columnist Mark Keohane, though, leans the Lions’ way.)

    More clear-cut are unanimous predictions that the Sharks will earn a second Australian scalp in a week by beating the Waratahs in their first home match at Kings Park, as well as the Stormers winning the Cape derby against the Kings with a healthy bit to spare.

    Meanwhile the only bone of contention regarding the Cheetahs-Sunwolves encounter is over how much the hosts will win by in Bloemfontein against the already ominously leaky Japanese – we suggest anything within a wide range of 15 to 64 points!

    *After an excellent first round, Rob slumped to four out of nine results correctly tipped on SuperBru in round two, meaning 12 correct ones out of 18 for him so far.

    SPORT24 PICK OF THE CROP

    JAGUARES v LIONS, Buenos Aires

    When: Saturday, 21:40

    Referee: Nick Briant (NZ)

    SuperSport commentators: Provided

    Weather outlook: Fine, warm, gentle breeze

    Background: I suggested (and I like to think with at least a morsel of common sense) much earlier this week that Johan Ackermann would finally unleash a much fuller-strength Lions combo this time, after the debatable second-string policy that scuppered them on the prior occasion in the Argentinean capital. Shortly afterwards, he revealed that a few big names were going to be rested or be unavailable for other reasons, for the taxing trip. Nevertheless, the travelling squad still looks rather steelier and more street-wise – it will need to be! – than the 2016 group. The Jaguares have improved immeasurably this year, as many might have expected, but ill-discipline and hot-headedness remains a thorny issue at key moments and it is on those grounds that I can just about see the Lions coming home with a precious victory to remain unbeaten after three rounds. That said, a Jaguares win instead would be no surprise. This one could go to the wire … possibly decided by a pressure kick at or near the siren?  It’s a mettle-testing debut for Shaun Reynolds in Elton Jantjies’s absence at No 10 … but at least the Jags won’t know much about him. Psst, the Lions bench doesn’t look too shabby for impact (Messrs Marx, De Klerk, Kriel, Dreyer etc) if they’re indeed closing in for what would be a commendable kill …

    Key head-to-head: A forceful scrum is a key prong to Argentinean rugby competitiveness generally, and the Jaguares aren’t really any different. To combat that threat, it is heartening that the Lions have seen fit to give a start to DYLAN SMITH, rehabilitated from lingering injury, at loosehead prop. Not your conventional powerhouse, the 23-year-old nevertheless showed excellent technical ability last season and he is sprightly about the park as well. His direct opponent here will be the Jaguares’ tighthead FELIPE ARREGUI. Even more of a first-class rookie than Smith at 22, the former Pumas under-20 star has picked up some valuable experience playing for Edinburgh in the northern hemisphere. This could be a vital duel on Saturday.

    Last result between sides: July 16, 2016: Jaguares 34 Lions 22 (Buenos Aires)

    Sport24 staff predictions: Rob Houwing: Lions by two; Garrin Lambley: Jaguares by three; Herman Mostert: Jaguares by three; Lloyd Burnard: Lions by 10.

    SA GAME 2

    SHARKS v WARATAHS, Durban

    When: Saturday, 19:30

    Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen (SA)

    SuperSport commentators: Andy Capostagno & Butch James, Hennie Koortzen & Ethienne Reynecke, Lungelo Payi & Makhaya Jack

    Weather outlook: Clear, warm, light breeze

    Background: Things have to be relatively hunky-dory if you can have the rare luxury of naming a wholly unchanged match-day 23 for your next fixture. But that’s the luxury Sharks coach Robert du Preez had this week, following their heartening late triumph over the Brumbies in Canberra. This continuity should pay dividends against the Waratahs, who looked disorganised in several ways despite moments of promise in their Johannesburg loss to the Lions. Maybe the only thing in the visitors’ favour is that they’ve been in the country for some time already, whereas the Sharks enter this one soon after the long haul back across the Indian Ocean. Expect Pat Lambie and his fellow-troops not to be complacent … they will be well aware that a first-up home defeat would quickly undo much of the good work done on their Aussie tour and represent a downgrade of any title hopes they may have in 2017. In physical terms, this one probably won’t be for the faint-hearted; neither side traditionally lacks oomph in that regard.

    Key head-to-head: Are the Sharks doing the right thing by keeping the gifted young Curwin Bosch curtailed to the bench? At least you know he’ll bring some X-factor at the business end … as vitally happened in Canberra! Instead they keep faith at fullback in the veteran Frenchman CLEMENT POITRENAUD, some 15 years his senior. Poitrenaud did look less error-prone against the Brumbies than a week earlier on debut against the Reds, so that’s a good sign. Up against the overseas recruit at fullback is the Waratahs’ ANDREW KELLAWAY, aged 21 and only in his second season of Super Rugby. As the last line of defence, Kellaway will be among those expected to sharpen their play in that area, as the ‘Tahs haemorrhaged eight tries in the Big Smoke last weekend …

    Last result between sides: May 16, 2015: Waratahs 33 Sharks 18 (Sydney)

    Sport24 staff predictions: Rob Houwing: Sharks by two; Garrin Lambley: Sharks by eight; Herman Mostert: Sharks by 10; Lloyd Burnard: Sharks by 12.

    SA GAME 3

    KINGS v STORMERS, Port Elizabeth

    When: Saturday, 15:05

    Referee: Shuhei Kubo (Japan)

    SuperSport commentators: Gavin Cowley & Robbie Kempson, John van Rensburg & Gary Boshoff, Lonwabo Mtimka & Mandisa Williams

    Weather outlook: Clear, warm, moderate wind

    Background: The fact that the Kings downed the Sunwolves by a fairly wide margin in Singapore might tell you that this coastal derby in the Friendly City will be a good-value one. Perhaps it will be that … but really, the already up-against-it Japanese outfit are no proper yardstick of Super Rugby quality at this juncture. Shaken up a bit by the Jaguares at Newlands last Saturday after their altogether more handsome showing against the Bulls, expect the Stormers to be properly focused on earning “maximum” here. They have injury-related, slight deficiencies or instability in some areas of their arsenal, but a comparison of the teams on paper still tells you that the Capetonians should find this a near-romp, even if the exchanges are tight and uncompromising initially. The Stormers will use their slick set-pieces to lay vital foundations, and with decent weather the prospect, this one ought to gradually blow out on the scoreboard despite any home-town grit … 

    Key head-to-head: What a difference that breakdown dynamo CHRIS CLOETE makes to the Kings! He was influential in the morale-boosting Singapore triumph over the Sunwolves, showing a fine work ethic and mongrel at close quarters despite the customary humidity there. The Stormers, for their part, are still without a genuine specialist at open-side flank although you get the sense that big RYNHARDT ELSTADT is gradually growing into the makeshift role. He will have his work cut out against Cloete in ball-pinching terms, but at least he is every bit as much of a “meneer” in the trenches …  

    Last result between sides: July 16, 2016: Stormers 52 Kings 24 (Cape Town)

    Sport24 staff predictions: Rob Houwing: Stormers by 21; Garrin Lambley: Stormers by 27; Herman Mostert: Stormers by 15; Lloyd Burnard: Stormers by 25.

    SA GAME 4

    CHEETAHS v SUNWOLVES, Bloemfontein

    When: Saturday, 17:15

    Referee: Rasta Rasivhenge (SA)

    SuperSport commentators: Owen Nkumane & Joel Stransky (Eng), Christo Olivier & Werner Swanepoel (Afrik), Kaunda Ntunja & Nomsebenzi Tsotsobe-Calata

    Weather outlook: Partly cloudy, warm, light breeze

    Background: A lethal combination of Sunwolves score-line frailty thus far in 2017, and the fact that they were humiliated 92-17 in the very Bloemfontein last season, points only to a notably lopsided Cheetahs victory, doesn’t it? Of the Sport24 panel, mind, I am by far the most conservative one, it seems, in guessing how much – can we disregard “whether”? – the Cheetahs prevail by on this occasion. My theory is that the Japanese franchise are due for a more defensively resilient outing, and may prove tougher nuts to crack than the Free State public anticipate. Franco Smith’s charges put a huge effort into their fine triumph over the Bulls, and key legs may be just a little heavy a week onward. So it may not be a try-fest, even if home fans will have fond memories of the respective hat-tricks of dot-downs registered by Paul Schoeman and Sergeal Petersen amidst the broader mayhem in last year’s meeting.

    Key head-to-head: His name may sound a little like a crunchy product you’d find on a supermarket shelf, but Sunwolves flyhalf HAYDEN CRIPPS will have to be anything but flaky against his opposite number at the Free State Stadium. The Cheetahs’ FRED ZEILINGA has been a bit of an early-season revelation for all-round confidence and attacking zest. His nimble footwork and dummying skills have served him particularly well so far, an area where he may outsmart the perhaps more metronomic New Zealand-born opposite number.  

    Last result between sides: April 15, 2016: Cheetahs 92 Sunwolves 17 (Bloemfontein)

    Sport24 staff predictions: Rob Houwing: Cheetahs by 15; Garrin Lambley: Cheetahs by 64; Herman Mostert: Cheetahs by 50; Lloyd Burnard: Cheetahs by 50.  

    *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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    Fixtures

    Saturday, 17 February 2018
    • Stormers v Jaguares, Cape Town 15:05
    • Lions v Sharks, Emirates Airlines Park 17:15
    Friday, 23 February 2018
    • Highlanders v Blues, 08:35
    • Rebels v Reds, AAMI Park 10:45
    Saturday, 24 February 2018
    • Sunwolves v Brumbies, Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium 06:15
    • Crusaders v Chiefs, 08:35
    • Waratahs v Stormers, Allianz Stadium 10:45
    • Lions v Jaguares, Emirates Airlines Park 15:05
    • Bulls v Hurricanes, Loftus Versfeld 17:15

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