Preview: Stormers v Chiefs

Date published: July 22 2016

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The Stormers host the Chiefs in what is expected to be a thrilling quarter-final, between two competitive sides, in Cape Town on Saturday.

Although the Chiefs have dominated this fixture in recent seasons, winning three of the last four matches between these sides – including the last two matches in Cape Town – the Stormers will be quietly confident as they have secured bonus-point victories in their last three matches and scored 18 tries in the process.

Granted, those triumphs were against the Rebels, Western Force and Kings – sides who are on the lower half of the overall table – but the men from the Cape showed in those fixtures they have the ability to run teams ragged, something which they were unable to do in previous seasons.

Under new head coach Robbie Fleck, the Stormers have certainly improved on attack and this is best illustrated in their improvement in the try-scoring stakes as they have already scored 49 tries in 15 matches this season which is just over three tries scored per match.

By comparison, their 2015 campaign saw them scoring a meagre 32 tries from 16 matches which is two tries per game. 

But despite that improvement, a large part of the Stormers' game is still based on a solid defensive structure and with this being a play-off match don't be surprised if they revert to a defensive style where they play for territory and keep the scoreboard ticking by taking shots at goal when awarded penalties.

A worrying statistic for the Stormers is their record in play-off matches. They have won only one of their seven finals games including none of the last four.

Under the guidance of head coach Dave Rennie, the Chiefs have once again been one of the most entertaining sides in the competition.

They were well set to host a quarter-final but lost their final league match to the Highlanders last weekend which meant they had to make the trip to Cape Town for this clash.

Due to the tournament's new format, the Stormers haven't played against a New Zealand side in 2016, which could make things difficult for the Chiefs but Rennie is confident his charges can secure victory.

"We've had to do a lot of homework in a hurry and we spent most of the flight over here doing that and obviously we've got a little bit of historical data, we've played them a number of times so there's some real consistency there," he said.

"They're a big side with a really strong set piece and have got a pretty big backline with a lot of gas.

"We've prepared well and we know we are going to have to defend really well. They carry strong, they latch on and force you to make a lot of tackles so it is going to be a pretty abrasive game I think.

"We've talked a lot about how you lift in intensity when you go into play-offs footy so we're well prepared, we know what the enemy is going to bring and our job now is to be good enough to deal with that."

They men from Hamilton have numerous game-breakers with co-captain Aaron Cruden and Damian McKenzie leading the way although the loss of Seta Tamanivalu, due to injury, and Liam Messam, who is ineligible to participate in the play-offs, will be keenly felt.

However, they have shown throughout their campaign that they have fantastic depth and although they will be without two of their star performers it won't be a major setback.

The 2012 and 2013 champions' culture and enviroment has new players stepping in seamlessly as proven against Wales earlier this year when, despite being without the services of several All Blacks, they claimed a convincing win over the international side.

Like all New Zealand sides they attack from all areas of the field and their running angles are difficult to defend against and their ability to free their hands in the tackle allows the ball to do the work which creates nightmares for opposing defences.

The last time the teams met: The Chiefs claimed a deserved 28-19 victory in a Round Five encounter at Newlands in 2015 to hand the Stormers their first defeat of that campaign. Aaron Cruden led the way for the New Zealanders with an 18 point-haul via a try, three penalties and two conversions. Sam Cane and James Lowe also crossed the whitewash for the Chiefs. For the Stormers, Kurt Coleman kicked three penalties and a conversion with the home side's other points coming courtesy of a Kobus van Wyk try and a penaly from Demetri Catrakilis.

Players to watch: The absence of Jean-Luc du Plessis, who injured himself in last weekend's win over the Kings, has opened the door for Robert du Preez to return to the fray. Du Preez was the Stormers' first-choice fly-half at the start of the campaign but missed most of the season after sustaining a knee injury. Although less flashy than Du Plessis, Du Preez's game suits knockout rugby and his selection points to a more conservative style of play from the home side. It's also a big game for captain Schalk Burger who will be hoping to extend his Stormers career with a win in front of the Newlands faithful.

Chiefs co-captain Sam Cane's value to the two-time champions must not be underestimated as he has been one of their leading players throughout their campaign. Apart from his leadership qualities, Cane has delivered several superb performances this year with his brilliance on attack complimented by an astute defensive game. Cane has been particularly impressive in the latter department and his 188 tackles for the season is the most by any player in this year's competition. Full-back Damian McKenzie has beaten the most defenders in the tournament and the is just seven carries shy of becoming the second player to make 200 carries this season. He is also one of just two players – along with Raymond Rhule of the Cheetahs – to play every minute of the campaign.

Team news: Fly-half Robert du Preez will make his first appearance for the Stormers since injuring his knee against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein in Round Two and comes into the starting XV for Jean-Luc du Plessis who was injured in the victory against the Kings. There is one other change to the back-line as scrum-half Nic Groom returns after being rested against the Kings last week, with Louis Schreuder and Brandon Thomson providing backline cover on the bench. In the front-row Bongi Mbonambi starts at hooker with Scarra Ntubeni moving to the bench where he will be joined by prop forwards Oli Kebble and co-captain Frans Malherbe who are both returning from injury. Locks Eben Etzebeth and Pieter-Steph du Toit return after sitting out last week, while the only change to the back row sees Siya Kolisi return to the XV, with Rynhardt Elstadt and a fit-again Nizaam Carr on the bench.

The Chiefs have made four changes to their run-on side. Due to an injury to Seta Tamanivalu, Stephen Donald comes in at number 12 and joins Anton Lienert-Brown in the midfield. Elsewhere in the backs, Sam McNicol is preferred ahead of Toni Pulu on the right wing while Brad Weber is back as the starting scrum-half. With Liam Messam injured, Tom Sanders shifts over to number eight and is joined in the back row by Taleni Seu and co-captain Sam Cane.

Form: The Stormers are on a four-match unbeaten run, after successive victories over the Cheetahs, Rebels, Western Force and Kings, with the latter three particularly successful as they secured bonus-points in each of those fixtures. Their last defeat was registered on May 21 when the Bulls beat them 17-13 in Pretoria.

The Chiefs' form has been inconsistent during the latter stages of the league phase of the tournament. Prior to the break for the June internationals, they suffered a 47-27 defeatr to the Waratahs in Sydney. They bounced back with a solid win at home over the Crusaders before notching 50 points in a one-sided victory over the Reds in Brisbane. They finished off their league campaign with an away defeat to the Highlanders last weekend.

Prediction: This match is so difficult to call. While the Chiefs will be confident as they've dominated this fixture in recent years, the Stormers' recent form and home ground advantage will prove decisive. Stormers to win by five points.

Previous results:

2015: Chiefs won 28-19 in Cape Town
2014: Chiefs won 36-20 in Hamilton
2013: Stormers won 36-34 in Cape Town
2011: Chiefs won 30-23 in Hamilton
2010: Stormers won 49-15 in Hamilton
2009: Chiefs won 28-14 in Cape Town
2008: Stormers won 35-26 in Hamilton
2007: Stormers won 21-16 in Cape Town

The teams:

Stormers: 15 Jaco Taute, 14 Kobus van Wyk, 13 Huw Jones, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Leolin Zas, 10 Robert du Preez, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Schalk Burger (c), 7 Siya Kolisi, 6 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 Eben Ezebeth, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Alistair Vermaak
Replacements: 16 Scarra Ntubeni, 17 Oli Kebble, 18 Frans Malherbe (c), 19 JD Schickerling, 20 Rynhardt Elstadt, 21 Nizaam Carr, 22 Louis Schreuder, 23 Brandon Thomson

Chiefs: 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Sam McNicol, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Stephen Donald, 11 James Lowe, 10 Aaron Cruden (cc), 9 Brad Weber, 8 Tom Sanders, 7 Sam Cane (cc), 6 Taleni Seu, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Dominic Bird, 3 Atu Moli, 2 Nathan Harris, 1 Kane Hames
Replacements: 16 Hika Elliot, 17 Siegfried Fisi’ihoi, 18 Mitchell Graham, 19 Tevita Koloamatangi, 20 Lachlan Boshier, 21 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 22 Toni Pulu, 23 Shaun Stevenson

Date: Saturday, July 23
Venue: DHL Newlands, Cape Town
Kick-off: 19:00 local (17:00 GMT)
Referee: Jaco Peyper
Assistant Referees: Jaco van Heerden, AJ Jacobs
TMO: Johan Greeff

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