Bounce-back time for Gauteng teams
With the DHL Stormers taking their bye and the Cell C Sharks expected to beat the Southern Kings comfortably, the fourth round of Vodacom Super Rugby is all about the Gauteng teams needing to bounce back from recent disappointments.
The Vodacom Bulls have had a calamitous start to the season with two away defeats and need to stabilise when they play their first home match against the Sunwolves. They should win comfortably, but the Sunwolves did push the Cheetahs last week. The Emirates Lions effectively conceded log points with their selection for the Jaguares game in Buenos Aires and will need to find their momentum again when they host the Reds.
The Lions shouldn’t have much trouble with the Reds, and it is probably that expectation that made coach Johan Ackermann comfortable with the selection that turned the Jagaures game into more of an obstacle than it might otherwise have been. But they will need to hit their straps in the same way as they did against their previous Australian opponents, the Waratahs, if they want to wipe out the memory of their first defeat of 2017.
Of course, the Lions have been here before, in the sense that they started off last year’s knock-out phase with a defeat in Buenos Aires. And they ended up easily dispatching the Crusaders and the Highlanders. They should do the same again, and the Bulls should also be way too strong for the Sunwolves.
When it comes to the African conferences, the weekend looks likely to be one of one-sided matches, the possible exception being the Toyota Cheetahs’ visit to Buenos Aires on Saturday night. This match assumes crucial importance for more than just the Cheetahs as, if the Jaguares start to build up a head of steam they will challenge the Lions and Sharks for supremacy in Africa Conference 2. And if that happens the Lions’ selection for last week will look even less clever.
WEEKEND PREVIEWS AND PREDICTIONS
Vodacom Bulls v Sunwolves (Pretoria, Friday 7pm)
After two tough away derbies the Bulls will welcome the fact that the Sunwolves are the first visitors to Loftus in 2017 as another defeat will leave them considerably behind the Stormers and possibly even the Cheetahs in Africa Conference 1. The win becomes even more of an imperative if you consider that the Bulls will be hitting the road again over the next few weeks. The Sunwolves were competitive against the Cheetahs last week but you wouldn’t expect them to be so again, provided that the Bulls sort out their set-piece and eliminate the errors that cost them against the Cheetahs and Stormers.
Prediction: Bulls to win by more than 25
Emirates Lions v Reds (Johannesburg, Saturday 5.15pm)
Cyle Brink was on the injured list earlier in the week for the Lions and there were also concerns over prop Dylan Smith, but their team will be much stronger for this game than it was for the match in Buenos Aires. The Reds have been bolstered by some good signings in the off-season, but they will have to improve on recent efforts if they are to push the Lions. The Lions did lose last week in Argentina but they will not be fielding the team that lost that game and the result should be similar to the most recent clash at Emirates Airline Park between the Lions and the Waratahs.
Prediction: Lions to win by 15 to 25.
Cell C Sharks v Southern Kings (Durban, 7.30pm)
The Sharks should by now be used to life without Patrick Lambie as their first choice flyhalf and skipper has been off the field for the best part of the last four seasons. However, what coach Robert du Preez does have to do is establish his back-up, in other words the man who will take them forward in the No 10 while Lambie is out. The Sharks made easy work of the Kings in last year’s Durban clash between the teams and while the Port Elizabeth side were competitive for periods of their clash with the Stormers, the result of this game should be similar to that one (31-point difference against Stormers last week and the Sharks scored 50 in the 2016 match.
Prediction: Sharks to win by more than 20
Jaguares v Toyota Cheetahs (Buenos Aires, Saturday 9.40pm)
The Cheetahs should have the support of the Lions and Sharks in this game. They are not in the same group as those two teams, but the Jaguares are, and after winning two in three, and beating a weakened Lions side last week, there is a danger that the Jaguares could pick up the confidence that will make them contenders for conference honours. The Cheetahs’ chances depend on which team pitches. The one that beat the Bulls two weeks ago will have a good chance. The one that struggled against the Sunwolves will struggle and the smart money should be on the hosts.
Prediction: Jaguares to win by 10.
Crusaders v Blues (Christchurch, Friday 8.35am)
Prediction: Crusaders to win by 15
Rebels v Chiefs (Melbourne, Friday 10.45am)
Prediction: Chiefs to win by 20
Hurricanes v Highlanders (Wellington, Saturday 8.35am)
Prediction: Hurricanes to sneak it
Waratahs v Brumbies (Sydney, Saturday 10.45am)
Prediction: Waratahs to score narrow win.