South African rugby lovers don’t have to wait until the weekend to get their fix as the Kick-Off Series continues on Tuesday, writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.
With teams playing on a ten-day cycle to manage Covid-19 testing protocols, fans are in for back-to-back double derby days, starting with Griquas welcoming the Stormers to Kimberley on Tuesday afternoon and the Pumas playing host to the Bulls in the evening game.
Here’s how we see things playing out:
Griquas v Stormers
Tuesday 9 March – 16:45
Griquas were typically gutsy and competitive in the first half of their showdown with the Sharks before falling off the pace in the second half and succumbing 35-10. What was especially gutting was the fact that they conceded all 35 points unanswered.
They lack the confidence fellow minnows the Pumas play with and losing talismanic captain Zak Burger to the Bulls was another demoralising blow that’ll take a considerable amount of time to recover from. Stefan Ungerer had a good day in Durban, but Burger is a special talent and was the heart and soul of the side.
The Stormers are hurting from their heart-breaking 34-33 loss to the Cheetahs, which spoiled their Cape Town Stadium debut. There’s no reason why they shouldn’t do the same to Griquas as the Sharks did. It’s never easy to win in Kimberley, but the away game eases the pressure on the Capetonians in this case. Greater intensity will be the name of the game for the visitors and will fuel them to victory.
Prediction: Stormers by 18
Pumas v Bulls
Tuesday 9 March – 19:00
The Pumas continued to show they’re clawing ever closer to that next level when they pushed the Lions to the limit in the 2021 season opener. It was another promising performance spoiled by a self-defeating inability to close out games in the final 10 minutes. What could’ve been a timely and rewarding win at Ellis Park was a 32-28 loss instead.
Still, the Pumas side looked set to have every chance to repeat the heroics of January 30th, the day the Mpumalanga minnows scored a famous Currie Cup 44-14 win over eventual champions the Bulls at the same venue that’ll host Tuesday night’s tussle, especially as it came against a young Bulls side similar to the one that’ll take to the field for this encore.
However, Jimmy Stonehouse surprisingly made 10 changes to his team on Monday morning, essentially omitting all of his key players including Willie Engelbrecht, Simon Westraadt, Eddie Fouche and Etienne Taljaard, with just Fouche featuring on the bench. As a result, the Bulls should bank a comprehensive win.
Prediction: Bulls by 21
EP Elephants v Lions
Wednesday 10 March – 16:45
Like we pointed out ahead of their clash against the Bulls, the Eastern Province Elephants will be cannon fodder in this series because of their semi-pro squad and the fact they hadn’t played in over a year coming into it.
However, Peter de Villiers would’ve expected more promising signs and greater grit from his charges, and certainly a better scoreline than 87-10. The loss of captain and flyhalf Inny Radebe for the remainder of the series added injury to insult.
To what extent can the new group stop the bleeding in their first home game? The franchises have agreed to share their resources with the Port Elizabeth union as it begins a new era, so that’ll help, but the spread is still all the Elephants’ matches boil down to from a betting perspective.
It’s a litter of cubs rather than a pride of Lions that are traversing to the Eastern Cape. Because it’s SUCH a young and inexperienced Gauteng outfit, I suspect the Elephants will be able to stay within 20 to 25 points.
Prediction: Lions by 21
Cheetahs v Sharks
Wednesday 10 March – 19:00
The pick of the week’s games with both teams starting the season on a winning note. Ousted from PRO rugby and with their future still undecided, the Free Staters have lost some key players. Like they showed against the Stormers, though, they measure up favourably against the four franchises, who are using the opening stages of the Kick-Off series to give greenhorns and fringe players game time.
Springbok stalwarts Frans Steyn and Ruan Pienaar won the Cape Town Stadium clash for the Cheetahs, the former with his unerring boot and the latter with vintage game-management as a super-sub in the final quarter. Pienaar’s back in the starting line-up along with Steyn and resumes the captaincy this week, and having the decorated duo’s class and vast experience to call on against primarily youthful opposition is like having a cheat code.
Considering how they’ve been treated by SA Rugby over the past decade, the Cheetahs probably deserve a leg-up for a change. No rain is on the cards, so it should be an exciting, high-scoring affair with the likes of Rosko Specman, the hat-trick hero in the 34-33 triumph, Clayton Blommetjies, Aphelele Fassi and Anthony Volmink on opposite ends.
Structure will still be key and with the Sharks giving the rookie halfback pairing of Grant Williams and Jordan Chait a chance, the Cheetahs’ aforementioned distinguished generals should win the tactical and territorial battle and with it, the game.