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Preview: Rebels v Stormers

16th May 2013 10:07

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Scott Higginbotham Rebels v Brumbies 2013 Melbourne

Key man: Scott Higginbotham

The Rebels and Stormers are set for an all-or-nothing set-to in Melbourne on Friday, with the South African side desperate for a win.

As improbable as it seems, the 10th versus 12th match between the Rebels and the Stormers is a battle between an irresistible force and an immovable object.

The Rebels have been racking up points, and are a team on the verge of success. In their last four games they have lost by less than a converted try.

The Stormers have similar experience of narrow margins, winning two games and losing two games by less than a seven-point margin.

The difference in the fortune between these teams isn't much.

The Stormers didn't cross the try-line against the Waratahs last week in Sydney. They relied on the goal-kicking of Joe Pietersen to keep them in touch for most of the game but it wasn't enough to do anything but salvage a bonus point. In fact, in their last four games the Stormers have scored four tries.

Contrast that to the Rebels, who while losing to the Blues, accrued 14 tries in their last four games. Their attacking options have increased and they've taken more of their opportunities.

Here's where the intrigue begins - if we flip the statistic to tries conceded though, and they tell a different story. In their last four outings the Stormers have conceded only four tries, the Rebels twelve.

So while it seems like a match of two middling teams at face value, the reality is that these two teams could provide a game filled with high-stakes action. The Rebels will be hectic, almost desperate while the Stormers clinical and patient.

The Rebels have made four changes to the side that lost to the Blues last week. First choice scrum-half Nick Phipps starts from the bench, having a rare rest which gives Nick Stirzaker his first starting role as scrum-half.

Lachlan Mitchell moves to the left wing to cover Cooper Vuna, who will miss the match with a calf strain. In turn, Rory Sidey fills Mitchell's regular position at 12.

Mitchell's defensive starch shores up the Rebels left side but the move fractures his extremely effective partnership with Mitchell Inman who will again play at outside centre.

Former Brumbies winger Kimami Sitauti will make his first appearance for the Rebels, coming off the reserves bench. Bryce Hegarty, who came on as a third string fly-half last week against the Blues, will start in that position. Ged Robinson returns at hooker, relegating Shota Horie to the bench.

Stormers coach Allister Coetzee has made seven changes to his squad for Friday. Deon Fourie again slots in on the side of the scrum, giving Scarra Ntubeni his first taste of Super Rugby this season in the number two jersey. Fourie's line-out throwing hasn't been up to scratch and Coetzee will be hoping for a better performance from the new hooker.

Nizaam Carr also gets his first start of the year, packing down at number eight. Flanker Siya Kolisi will serve on the openside this week with Rynhardt Elstadt missing out completely due to injury.

Coetzee has taken a broom to his halves, sweeping the channel clean to restore Elton Jantjies and Louis Schreuder to fly-half and scrum-half respectively. Jantjies comes in as a direct swap for Gary van Aswegan while Dewaldt Duvenage has been omitted from the matchday 22.

The key to this game is Jantjies. If the playmaker can find his rhythm and dictate the play, the Stormers could win in at a canter. If the Rebels can nullify him by cramping him for time and space, they're an outside chance.

The Rebels will hope their loose forwards will again lay a platform but may struggle with the inexperienced halves combination of Stirzaker and Hegarty, who will play their first game as a combination, and both in their run-on debuts.

Prediction: The Stormers are depleted on the road, as testified by their changes. The Rebels have toiled for a month and are probably hurting both physically and emotionally. It will be a struggle for both teams, but the class of the Stormers may shade the Rebels' work ethic. Stormers by 3!

The teams:

Rebels 15 Jason Woodward, 14 Tom English, 13 Mitch Inman, 12 Rory Sidey, 11 Lachlan Mitchell, 10 Bryce Hegarty, 9 Nic Stirzaker, 8 Scott Higginbotham, 7 Scott Fuglistaller, 6 Jarrod Saffy, 5 Cadeyrn Neville, 4 Hugh Pyle, 3 Laurie Weeks, 2 Ged Robinson, 1 Nic Henderson.
Replacements: 16 Shota Horie, 17 Paul Alo-Emile, 18 Luke Jones, 19 Gareth Delve, 20 Jordy Reid, 21 Nick Phipps, 22 Kimaumi Sitauti.

Stormers: 15 Joe Pietersen, 14 Gio Aplon, 13 Juan de Jongh, 12 Jean de Villers, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Louis Schreuder, 8 Nizaam Carr, 7 Siya Kolisi, 6 Deon Fourie, 5 Andriess Bekker, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Pat Cilliers, 2 Scarra Ntubeni, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Replacements: 16 Martin Bezuidenhout, 17 Frans Malherbe, 18 Gerbrandt Grobler, 19 Don Armond, 20 Nic Groom, 21 Gary van Aswegan, 22 Gerhard van den Heever.

Date: Friday, May 17
Time: 19:35 (7:35 GMT)
Venue: AAMI Park, Melbourne
Referee: Mike Fraser (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Rohan Hoffmann (Australia), Ed Martin (Australia)
Television match official: Matt Goddard (Australia)

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PosTeamPPts
1Waratahs1658
2Brumbies1645
3Western Force1640
4Reds1628
5Melbourne Rebels1621