Preview: Stormers v Brumbies

Date published: June 19 2015

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South Africa's final hope in Super Rugby this year, the Stormers, are chasing a third semi-final in five years when they host the Brumbies on Saturday.

After holding off the threat of the Lions in the South African Conference, the Stormers were able to rest 14 of this week's starting XV when they travelled to Durban last weekend to keep their best players fit and firing for what is set up to be monster clash at Newlands Stadium.

Saturday is a tall order for two teams who have negative records when it comes to matches in the Super Rugby Finals Series.

The Brumbies have lost six of their 16 play-off matches in Super Rugby history, while the Stormers have won only one of their six games in the post-season.

However, the Brumbies do have in the memory bank that shock away victory in the Super Rugby semi-final against the Bulls in 2013. Winning away on South African soil in the knockout stages is therefore nothing new.

Managing the travel time from Canberra to Cape Town gives the Brumbies their own extra challenge but they will have been boosted hugely by David Pocock being passed fit for Saturday's game.

There has been nothing subtle about the Brumbies main weapon during the absence of Matt Toomua. Four tries for Pocock off the back of the rolling maul in his last two games are impressive, but when you factor in that his replacement Jordan Smiler then added two tries of his own from the source last time out against the Crusaders then you can't help but be impressed.

Toomua being ready to start add an extra level of intrigue to the Brumbies approach, after he was confirmed in the starting XV on Friday.

While the Brumbies are lifted however by Pocock being passed fit, there is no such luck for the Stormers and Duane Vermeulen.

A back-row of Schalk Burger, Siya Kolisi and Nizaam Carr is still an excellent unit but Vermeulen is extra special, the South African Player of the Year in 2014 and a wrecking ball off the back of the scrum who is not just a influential carrier but also a leader.

His impact will have to come from elsewhere but the boot of Demetri Catrakilis will be crucial, given he holds the best percentage of any kicker in Super Rugby this year at 89 percent.

His accuracy off the tee, and that of Christian Lealiifano's, will be vital this weekend in what is set to be bruising encounter between a pair of sides who do have speed out the back, but who thrive off their upfront power. Only one can win.

The last time these teams met: These two sides have in fact met already this year at the same stadium, a 25-24 win for the Stormers back in May. That day the boot of Catrakilis was crucial as he finished with 20 points, including five penalties and a drop goal, with the Brumbies outscoring their hosts two-to-one thanks to Joe Tomane and Pocock.

Players to watch: Without the running game of Vermeulen the Stormers must look elsewhere, and who better to crash the ball up and get them over the advantage line than Damian de Allende. Only Israel Folau has beaten more defenders this season than the strapping Springbok centre, with De Allende also a reliable source for clean breaks and offloads. Given the struggles of the Brumbies scrum, which ranks 14th for success in 2015, tighthead prop Frans Malherbe could play a huge role.

For the visitors the Brumbies scrum might be an issue but the lineout certainly isn't – the best-ranked unit in Super Rugby with 91 percent, which makes the impact of Scott Fardy all the more important. Fardy might be down at blindside flanker but he is the key lineout outlet for Stephen Moore, with 47 takes this year and his share of steals not just at the set-piece, but also at the breakdown. If Fardy can secure enough ball upfront then Tevita Kuridrani will be a handful with the ball in hand.

Team news: The Brumbies have named an unchanged side. As it stands Pocock is fit to play, having recovered from a concussion suffered last weekend, however head coach Larkham admits that could yet change. Lealiifano will make his 100th Super Rugby appearance after being named at fly-half.

The Stormers have recalled all of their big guns. Outside centre Juan de Jongh returns and will join De Allende in the midfield, with Nic Groom and Demetri Catrakilis partnering at half-back. The back-three of Cheslin Kolbe, Dillyn Leyds and Seabelo Senatla has been reunited. Up front, Nizaam Carr – the only starting survivor from Durban – will pack down at number eight in a powerful forward pack, with hooker Scarra Ntubeni (calf muscle) passed fit to join the bench.

Form: The Stormers come into it with a strong recent home record having picked up four wins and one draw in their last five games at Newlands, along with having come out on top in three of their last four games with the Brumbies. Last week's defeat to the Sharks can be discounted given the wholesale changes made, with the Stormers' last defeat before that coming to the Cheetahs on May 2.

The Brumbies' three-game winning run came to an end last week with their loss to the Crusaders at home in Canberra but before that triumphant run they lost four in five games to scupper their run for top spot in the Australian Conference.

Prediction: Plenty of factors to consider with the Stormers players being fresh and the Brumbies have travelled to South Africa, but with their experience in the Super Rugby Final Series and the big weapon in their maul, could the Australian side sneak it? History is not on their side with very few away teams winning on the road in the play-offs, but they could pinch this one. Brumbies by 3!

Previous results:

2015: Stormers won 25-24 in Cape Town
2014: Brumbies won 25-15 in Canberra 
2013: Stormers won 35-22 in Cape Town
2011: Stormers won 16-3 in Canberra

The teams:

Stormers: 15 Cheslin Kolbe, 14 Dillyn Leyds, 13 Juan de Jongh (c), 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Seabelo Senatla, 10 Demetri Catrakilis, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Nizaam Carr, 7 Siya Kolisi, 6 Schalk Burger, 5 Manuel Carizza, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Replacements: 16 Scarra Ntubeni, 17 Ali Vermaak, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 Jean Kleyn, 20 Michael Rhodes, 21 Louis Schreuder, 22 Kurt Coleman, 23 Jaco Taute.

Brumbies (revised): 15 Jesse Mogg, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Matt Toomua, 11 Joe Tomane, 10 Christian Lealiifano, 9 Nic White, 8 Ita Vaea, 7 David Pocock, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Blake Enever, 4 Rory Arnold, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Stephen Moore (c), 1 Scott Sio.

Replacements: 16 Josh Mann-Rea, 17 Allan Alaalatoa, 18 Ruan Smith, 19 Jordan Smiler, 20 Jarrad Butler, 21 Michael Dowsett, 22 Robbie Coleman, 23 Nigel Ah Wong

Date: Saturday, June 20
Venue: Newlands, Cape Town
Kick-off: 17:05 local (15:05 GMT, 01:05 AEST, 03:05 NZST)
Referee: Jaco Peyper
Assistant Referees: Craig Joubert, Jason Jaftha
TMO: Deon van Blommestein

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