Neither the Stormers or the Rebels will be in particularly confident mood when they go head-to-head at Newlands on Friday.
Three successive defeats have seen both teams damage their play-off prospects, with the Melbourne outfit, who once led the standings, in seventh, and the South Africans down in 12th.
It has been an especially frustrating season so far for Robbie Fleck’s men, who had such promise going into 2018, but their away form has badly let them down. They have a chance to rectify that, however, with five of their final seven encounters coming at Newlands, while their two matches on the road against the Sunwolves and Jaguares are eminently winnable.
Although the Lions comfortably reside at the top of their conference – the Stormers at the bottom – the defeated finalists from the past two years have not been entirely convincing and Fleck’s outfit could potentially pressure the Johannesburg team.
That may appear unlikely, but Fleck’s charges have performed fairly well in front of their supporters and are unbeaten. An encounter with the Rebels duly offers them an opportunity to get their campaign back on track with the Australians also off-form.
Dave Wessels’ side, after a summer overhaul which saw them bring in several players from the Western Force, had such a promising opening to the campaign, but their heavy 50-19 loss to the Hurricanes seems to have drained confidence.
They faltered against both the Jaguares and Bulls and, irrespective of the hosts’ position in the standings, it could be a fourth loss in a row.
The talent is there, with Reece Hodge, Jack Maddocks and Marika Koroibete all very gifted individuals behind the scrum, while the back-row of Lopeti Timani, Angus Cottrell and Amanaki Mafi is well balanced, but that ability has not quite transferred onto the field recently.
It is therefore a battle between two teams searching for that winning formula, but the Stormers should have the edge going into the contest on Friday.
The last time the teams met: The Stormers produced an excellent final quarter to thrash the Rebels 57-31 at AAMI Park. Although the hosts got off to a superb start, going 14-6 up via Sefa Naivalu and Ben Meehan tries, the Cape Town side hit back and were ahead by the interval through Vincent Koch’s 33rd minute effort. Jack Debreczeni went over in the second period to tie the scores by the hour mark, but Nic Groom, Damian de Allende, Leolin Zas and Scarra Ntubeni crossed the whitewash late on to secure the win.
Team news: Wing JJ Engelbrecht and flank Kobus van Dyk will start for the DHL Stormers against the Rebels at DHL Newlands on Friday.
The Stormers are back home at Newlands following three away games and will face the Melbourne side on Freedom Day.
Engelbrecht’s inclusion on the left wing is the only change to the backline, while in the forward pack Van Dyk is at blindside flank, with Pieter-Steph du Toit shifting to lock where he will partner Chris van Zyl.
Cobus Wiese and Seabelo Senatla both make their return from injury on the replacements bench.
Head coach Robbie Fleck is looking forward to playing at Newlands once again. “It is always good to be back at DHL Newlands and playing in front of our faithful supporters who have played a big role in our three wins at home this season,” he said.
Meanwhile, skipper Adam Coleman will start in the second-row as the Rebels make three changes to their starting XV to face the Stormers in Cape Town. Coleman shrugged off any injury concerns after being substituted at half-time in the loss to the Bulls last weekend.
Lopeti Timani comes onto the flank for Ross Haylett-Petty, while Billy Meakes returns to the centres to replace the injured Dane Haylett-Petty. Jack Maddocks will start at full-back while Tom English is on the wing.
Front-rower Jermaine Ainsley makes his first start since the Hurricanes match in March in a direct swap with Sam Talakai, who is in line to make his 50th Super Rugby appearance this Friday.
Across the bench, 20-year-old front-rower Sama Malolo is set to make his Super Rugby debut, while flanker Colby Fainga’a and outside back Semisi Tupou round out the inclusions.
Rebels’ head coach Dave Wessels said: “It’s great to have LT (Timani), Jermaine and Billy back in the team. Aside from Aranu Rangi, it’s the pack that we started our campaign with. We know there’s a fair bit of cohesion in that group and that will be important on Friday night.”
2016: Stormers won 57-31 in Melbourne
2015: Stormers won 31-15 in Cape Town
2013: Rebels 30-21 in Melbourne
2012: Stormers won 26-21 in Cape Town
2011: Stormers won 40-03 in Melbourne
Stormers: 15 Dillyn Leyds, 14 Craig Barry, 13 EW Viljoen, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 JJ Engelbrecht, 10 Damian Willemse, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 7 Kobus van Dyk, 6 Siya Kolisi (c), 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 Chris van Zyl, 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Ramone Samuels, 1 Steven Kitshoff
Replacements: 16 Scarra Ntubeni, 17 JC Janse van Rensburg, 18 Carlu Sadie, 19 Cobus Wiese, 20 Nizaam Carr, 21 Paul de Wet, 22 SP Marais, 23 Seabelo Senatla.
Rebels: 15 Jack Maddocks, 14 Tom English, 13 Reece Hodge, 12 Billy Meakes, 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 Jack Debreczeni, 9 Michael Ruru, 8 Amanaki Mafi, 7 Angus Cottrell, 6 Lopeti Timani, 5 Adam Coleman (c), 4 Matt Philip, 3 Jermaine Ainsley, 2 Anaru Rangi, 1 Tetera Faulkner
Replacements: 16 Sama Malolo, 17 Fereti Sa’aga, 18 Sam Talakai, 19 Geoff Parling, 20 Colby Fainga’a, 21 Harrison Goddard, 22 Semisi Tupou, 23 Sefa Naivalu
Date: Friday, April 27
Venue: Newlands, Cape Town
Kick-off: 15:05 local (13:05 GMT)
Referee: Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa), Rasta Rasivhenge (South Africa)
TMO: Christie du Preez (South Africa)