Cape Town – Sport24 chief writer Rob Houwing, in the next of his regular South African-focused Vodacom Super Rugby previews this year, tips the Sharks to keep that old, bothersome Cheetahs bogey well at bay in this instance at Kings Park on Saturday.
He also backs the Bulls to at least drag their wobbling playoffs quest to the final round by seeing off the Sunwolves at Loftus -- although the Stormers should also wrap up Africa Conference 1 supremacy by prevailing in Perth a couple of hours earlier.
As for the Friday clash between the lofty Lions and low-lying Kings in Johannesburg … well, is it really necessary to know which way his forecast leans?
*Rob currently lies 5,096th out of around 196,000 Super Rugby tipsters on SuperBru, with a win success rate of 77%.
SPORT24 PICK OF THE CROP
SHARKS v CHEETAHS, Durban
When: Saturday, 19:15
Referee: Stuart Berry (SA)
TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD
SuperSport commentators: Matthew Pearce & Butch James (Eng), John van Rensburg & Toks van der Linde (Afrik), Kaunda Ntunja & Lungelo Payi (Xho)
Weather outlook: Mild, chance of rain, gentle breeze
Background: No prizes for guessing who the Bulls, their playoffs aspirations hanging by a thread, will be willing on in this one … the Cheetahs. A derby triumph by the central franchise in Durban would probably re-open the qualification gate for the three-time champions. But is it possible? Never say never, yet this isn’t anything like the strong-punching Cheetahs side of 2013, when they heroically reached the finals-series phase, and the Sharks have urgent playoffs goals of their own on Saturday night after their relative humiliation in Jo’burg last time out. Player for player, they look too well-equipped to slip up, even minus the likes of Messrs Lambie and Le Roux in their backline. Andre Esterhuizen is back to provide necessary physical gusto at No 12 and if talented Garth April shows better composure at flyhalf this time, the home-town pack should provide enough ball for the hosts to cross the line fairly safely.
Key head-to-head: If JEAN-LUC DU PREEZ wants to keep making the necessary strides toward full national honours in the not too distant future, ticking a box in his blindside flank duel with the Cheetahs’ Springbok OUPA MOHOJE would be a fruitful development. The 20-year-old probably has the edge in pure muscular terms at close quarters, where he is hard to contain anywhere near a try-line, although QwaQwa-born Mohoje, a fair bit older and wiser at 25, brings very watchable athleticism on a good day plus excellent ability at the back of the lineout …
Last result between sides: March 14, 2015: Cheetahs 10 Sharks 27 (Bloemfontein)
Sport24 predictions: Rob Houwing: Sharks by 12; Garrin Lambley: Sharks by eight; Herman Mostert: Sharks by 10; Lloyd Burnard: Sharks by 10.
SA GAME 2
LIONS v KINGS, Johannesburg
When: Friday, 19:00
Referee: Jaco van Heerden (SA)
TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD
SuperSport commentators: Owen Nkumane & Joel Stransky (Eng), Hennie Koortzen & Kobus Wiese (Afrik), Alfred Mzizi & Kaya Malotana (Xho)
Weather outlook: Clear, chilly, light breeze
Background: The dice looks so heavily loaded against the Kings, level-pegging only with the Sunwolves for fewest points (nine) in Super Rugby 2016: not only are the basement-dwellers crippled by injuries, but the competition-leading Lions have decided to go pretty much full-strength against them. Johan Ackermann’s effervescent charges will have to be positively awful to surrender this one, won’t they? Main neutral interest, perhaps, may lie in whether they can eclipse or emulate the 7-2 try tally from the first-round meeting in PE. Don’t be too surprised if Ackermann urges his players to be forceful and complacency-free right from the outset, potentially setting up the luxury of the coach hauling off key personalities to cotton-wool them for later challenges from quite early in the second half.
Key head-to-head: The injury virus in the Kings’ ranks means that hooker EDGAR MARUTLULLE, one of their more competitive players this year, gets a pretty deserved crack at leading the troops. Boksburg-born and a former Lions representative, he won’t lack for motivation to put up a belligerent display both as skipper and front-rower. Marutlulle missed the April encounter while on the crocked list himself, but finally he goes head to head with the home team’s hugely in-form, brawny MALCOLM MARX, who was a squad-mate very recently for SA ‘A’ against the England Saxons. Marx revelled against the Sharks last Saturday, only cranking up the cries for higher honours which may yet come in the Rugby Championship.
Last result between sides: April 23, 2016: Kings 10 Lions 45 (Port Elizabeth)
Sport24 predictions: Rob Houwing: Lions by 36; Garrin Lambley: Lions by 36; Herman Mostert: Lions by 30; Lloyd Burnard: Lions by 44.
SA GAME 3
FORCE v STORMERS, Perth
When: Saturday, 13:55
Referee: Mike Fraser (NZ)
TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD
SuperSport commentators: Australian panel
Weather outlook: Cool, showery, moderate wind
Background: An admission, now that the dust has properly settled on last weekend’s programme: I stuffed up the chance for a full house of correct predictions on SuperBru then (ending 8/9) by letting a silly hunch convince me the Stormers would lose to the Rebels in Melbourne. Mind you, with the game up for grabs at 31-31 at an advanced stage, it didn’t seem so daft … before the Stormers closed out the encounter in impressive, free-scoring fashion. The Force being a considerably weaker Aussie franchise these days, pure logic suggests the Capetonians should come home with a satisfying mini-sweep from Down Under, especially with Schalk Burger rightfully – my view, anyway – wearing the captaincy “armband” at present. Rocked by absenteeism and some booze-related disciplinary disgrace from Bloemfontein, the vibe just doesn’t seem right for a home win. Or put it this way: if the Stormers botch this one, it will represent a violent downgrade of their title mettle.
Key head-to-head: He was linked to the hotel shenanigans in SA a few days ago, but DANE HAYLETT-PETTY also put in a consistently dangerous showing on attack for the Force in their desperately narrow loss to the Cheetahs. The recently-capped Wallaby, who originally hails from Durban, scored two of the three tries for the losing side and seemed to make things happen almost every time he was on the ball. But the Stormers have their own good ‘un at fullback in the shape of a rapidly-resharpening JACO TAUTE, back in the berth where he made such glorious strides for the Lions a few seasons ago. If this luckless character can finally stay injury-free and settle comfortably at No 15 anew, I just wonder if it may prompt the Stormers (if only from next season, perhaps) to run with that “Cheslin Kolbe at scrumhalf” crusade advocated by some pundits …
Last result between sides: April 18, 2015: Force 6 Stormers 13 (Perth)
Sport24 predictions: Rob Houwing: Stormers by 12; Garrin Lambley: Stormers by 10; Herman Mostert: Stormers by five; Lloyd Burnard: Stormers by 12.
SA GAME 4
BULLS v SUNWOLVES, Pretoria
When: Saturday, 17:05
Referee: Quinton Immelman (SA)
TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD
SuperSport commentators: Owen Nkumane & Joel Stransky (Eng), Hennie Koortzen & Derick Hougaard (Afrik), Alfred Mzizi & Kaya Malotana (Xho)
Weather outlook: Clear, mild, light breeze
Background: Given that their opponents are “only” the Sunwolves, it is not out of the question that the Bulls will run away with this one at beloved Loftus – a bit like the Cheetahs famously did against the Japanese foes in mid-April. But I also suspect that Nollis Marais’s charges may be dangerously close to that “emotionally shot” status they sometimes speak of in sport, knowing that their playoffs dreams may well have been finally shattered in Buenos Aires last Saturday. If the Bulls do win with plenty of daylight, it may be only because the Sunwolves’ legs buckle in the last quarter, although if there’s any suggestion of slackness in the home ranks, hopefully someone has posted a dressing-room reminder of how very nearly they came a cropper in Singapore way back in March!
Key head-to-head: The Sunwolves remains relative Highveld rookies – and look what happened to them in Bloemfontein – but at least in much-travelled fullback RIAAN VILJOEN, who took his first breath in the mining town of Carletonville, they have someone far from unfamiliar to the demands of “altitude”. Directly opposing him, in a return to the No 15 jersey where he first made his Super Rugby mark, is Springbok utility factor JESSE KRIEL. This late-season affair may well become fast and loose, and under such circumstances the strong thighs and swerving skills of Kriel in greater space could spark a certain mayhem if the Bulls are collectively up for it.
Last result between sides: March 26, 2016: Sunwolves 27 Bulls 30 (Singapore)
Sport24 predictions: Rob Houwing: Bulls by 25; Garrin Lambley: Bulls by 29; Herman Mostert: Bulls by 30; Lloyd Burnard: Bulls by 30.
*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing