The Stormers need interim captain Schalk Burger to lead from the front against the Rebels in Melbourne on Saturday, writes SIMON BORCHARDT.
A 31-24 win against the Cheetahs at Newlands saw the Stormers go into the June break with a four-point lead over the Bulls at the top of the Africa 1 conference. It also secured them second spot in the South African group, a point ahead of the third-placed Sharks and six behind the leading Lions.
While the Stormers will struggle to overhaul the Lions over the next three weeks, they should win the Africa 1 conference to book a home quarter-final.
The Cape franchise couldn't have asked for an easier run-in to the playoffs. They take on two of the weaker Australian teams, the Rebels and the Force, during a two-match tour and then return home to face the Kings, who are bottom of the Africa 2 conference. Anything less than three wins would be a disappointment for Robbie Fleck's men.
However, while the Force and Kings have been poor this year, the Rebels have won six of their 12 matches, against the Force (twice), Reds, Sunwolves, Waratahs and Cheetahs. The Stormers should not underestimate them this Saturday, especially on their home turf where they tend to raise their game.
The Stormers have lost three players for the latter stage of their campaign. Co-captain Juan de Jongh and Cheslin Kolbe are with the Blitzboks training squad and expected to make the final 12-man squad for the Olympic Games, while their other co-captain, Frans Malherbe, has been ruled out for two to three weeks with a neck injury he sustained against Ireland. That has resulted in Burger, who missed the June Tests because of an ankle injury, taking over the captaincy.
The Stormers will rely not just on the veteran's experience and leadership on this tour, but his ability to inspire those around him through his on-field exploits. Burger may be past his very best at the age of 33, but can still make a big impact with ball in hand and on defence. He has never shown any regard for his body and you can expect him to put it on the line again in Melbourne.
Burger will start at No 8 on Saturday ahead of Sikhumbuzo Notshe, with Taute coming in for Kolbe at fullback and Vincent Koch replacing Malherbe at tighthead prop. Prop JP Smith and utility back Scott van Breda will make their Stormers debuts if they come off the bench.
In two changes to the Rebels side, Ben Meehan replaces the injured Nic Stirzaker at scrumhalf and Jonah Placid starts on the right wing with Sefa Naivalu shifting to outside centre.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Stormers 3, Rebels 1
In Melbourne: Rebels 1, Stormers 1
STATS AND FACTS
– The Stormers have won three of their four encounters with the Rebels, with their only blemish coming in a 30-21 loss in round 14, 2013.
– The Rebels are winless in four straight games (lost three, drew one), their longest streak since they ended their 2014 season with five consecutive defeats.
– The Stormers have won on their last two trips to Australia, including a win against the Waratahs in round nine when they were trailing at half-time.
– The Stormers remain one of only two teams this season (the other being the Sharks), who are yet to concede 10 tries in any quarter of games.
– Sean McMahon has beaten 43 defenders in this campaign, the third most of any player and more than any other forward.
|Team||Top point-scorer||Top try-scorer||Most metres gained||Most tackles|
|Rebels||Jack Debreczeni (8)||Reece Hodge (8)||Sean McMahon (463)||Sean McMahon (114)|
|Stormers||Jean-Luc du Plessis (88)||Leolin Zas (4)||Cheslin Kolbe (665)||Pieter-Steph du Toit (106)|
Rebels – 15 Mike Harris, 14 Jonah Placid, 13 Sefa Naivalu, 12 Reece Hodge, 11 Tom English, 10 Jack Debreczeni, 9 Ben Meehan, 8 Colby Fainga’a, 7 Sean McMahon (c), 6 Jordy Reid, 5 Lopeti Timani, 4 Luke Jones, 3 Toby Smith, 2 James Hanson, 1 Cruze Ah Nau.
Subs: 16 Pat Leafa, 17 Tom Moloney, 18 Laurie Weeks, 19 Culum Retallick, 20 Adam Thomson, 21 Mick Snowden, 22 Mitch Inman, 23 Paul Asquith.
Stormers – 15 Jaco Taute, 14 Kobus van Wyk, 13 Daniel du Plessis, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Leolin Zas, 10 Jean-Luc du Plessis, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Schalk Burger (c), 7 Siya Kolisi, 6 Nizaam Carr, 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Oli Kebble.
Subs: 16 Scarra Ntubeni, 17 Alistair Vermaak, 18 JP Smith, 19 JD Schickerling, 20 Rynhardt Elstadt, 21 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 22 Louis Schreuder, 23 Scott van Breda.
Referee: Angus Gardner (Australia)
Assistant referees: Nic Berry (Australia), Amy Perrett (Australia)
TMO: Ian Smith (Australia)
Photo: Chris Ricco/BackpagePix