Consistency has been the hallmark of the Stormers' season, but they have lacked a cutting edge
There are a few interesting games lined up for what seems set to be another big Super Rugby Saturday. We take a closer look at the match-ups.
Things kick off in Auckland where the Blues and the Force will be looking to salvage some pride in their penultimate fixture of the season.
From there it is on to Sydney where the Wallaby-laden Waratahs square up to the play-off chasing Brumbies, so expect some sparks to fly in that Australian derby.
There are two matches in South Africa to round off the weekend's action. First up the Cheetahs will be out to throw a spanner in the Stormers' hopes of securing a home semifinal when they take on the South African conference leaders in Bloemfontein.
The final match of the weekend sees the Lions take on the Rebels in the first-ever clash between the sides.
Saturday, July 7:
Blues v Force
(Eden Park, Auckland - Kick-off: 19.35; 07.35 GMT)
The Blues and the Force will be looking for some consolation in Auckland on Saturday as both teams have endured tough campaigns which have left them nestled disappointingly near the bottom of the standings.
Both sides have also had coaching woes to deal with this year - the Force lost their coach Richard Graham halfway through the season and Blues coach Pat Lam is set to leave the franchise once their underwhelming campaign concludes next week.
The Blues have been dogged by injury this year, and although they enjoyed a bye last week which effectively gave them a month off duty, they have had to deal with further losses as outside back Rudi Wulf recently became the latest casualty.
One positive for the home side is the return of their captain Keven Mealamu after an extended absence, and with Force skipper David Pocock out of the frame this week it could be just the boost the Blues need to give the Eden Park crowd something to cheer about.
The home side have named a dangerous backline, with Sevens ace Charles Piutau stepping in for Wulf at fullback, and they should have the upperhand out wide against a Force backline that has lacked creative flair this season.
The visitors will be fairly solid up front and should hold their own in the set-pieces, but they lack gamebreakers who can put the Blues under pressure so if the home side's stars click then things could get nasty for the Men from Perth.
2011: 22-22 draw in Perth
2010: Blues won 38-17 in Auckland
2009: Blues won 25-19 in Perth
2008: Force won 27-17 in North Harbour
2007: Blues won 33-6 in Perth
Prediction: Neither side have much to lose and with the pressure off we are expecting the Blues to have things their own way on their home track. Blues to win by about 15 points.
Blues: 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Lachie Munro 13 Francis Saili, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Rene Ranger, 10 Michael Hobbs, 9 Piri Weepu, 8 Luke Braid, 7 Daniel Braid, 6 Steven Luatua, 5 Andrew van der Heijden, 4 Liaki Moli, 3 Tevita Mailau, 2 Keven Mealamu (captain), 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Tom McCartney, 17 Angus Ta'avao, 18 Chris Lowrey, 19 Peter Saili, 20 Alby Mathewson, 21 Orene Ai'i, 22 Hadleigh Parkes.
Force: 15 Alfie Mafi, 14 Nick Cummins, 13 Will Tupou, 12 Winston Stanley, 11 Napolioni Nalaga, 10 Ben Seymour, 9 Brett Sheehan, 8 Lachlan McCaffery, 7 Angus Cottrell, 6 Richard Brown, 5 Nathan Sharpe (captain), 4 Toby Lynn, 3 Salesi Manu, 2 Nathan Charles, 1 Pek Cowan.
Replacements: 16 Ben Whittaker, 17 Ruan Smith, 18 Ollie Atkins, 19 Anare Koliavu, 20 Josh Holmes, 21 Kyle Godwin, 22 Patrick Dellit.
Referee: Mike Fraser (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Jonathon White (New Zealand), Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)
Waratahs v Brumbies
(ANZ Stadium, Sydney - Kick-off: 19.40; 09.40 GMT)
The Waratahs and the Brumbies will be under pressure for completely different reasons this weekend as Jake White's team are aiming to take another step towards topping the Australian conference, whilst the Waratahs need to lift their game and play like a side with 10 Wallabies in the starting line-up.
The Waratahs have not delivered on their potential this year and after a string of disappointing losses the heat is on coach Michael Foley who has not produced the results expected in Sydney.
The Brumbies have been a complete contrast this season as despite a lack of big names they have produced the goods through consistency and discipline, and this trip to Sydney should indicate how well they stand up under pressure with the play-offs approaching.
The Waratahs have some fairly big reputations to protect against a settled Brumbies outfit that has their collective work ethic to thank for their success, so it will be interesting to see which formula prevails.
The forward battle should be quite fierce, with both packs reliant on their physicality to establish dominance. The Brumbies have been able to pressurise teams all season through their aggresive defence and their clash with the big Waratahs ball-carriers should be crucial.
The Waratahs have a new and inexperienced halfback pairing, but the rest of the backline are all Wallabies and it will be vital for the big names to provide the spark if they are to crack the highly-organised Brumbies.
2012: Brumbies won 23-6 in Canberra
2011: Waratahs won 41-7 in Sydney
2011: Waratahs won 29-22 in Canberra
2010: Waratahs won 19-12 in Sydney
2009: Brumbies won 21-11 in Canberra
Prediction: The Waratahs are always tough to beat in Sydney and have a stronger team on paper, but the Brumbies are a settled unit that is playing well as a team so we are backing them to sneak a win by three points.
Waratahs: 15 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 14 Lachie Turner, 13 Rob Horne, 12 Berrick Barnes, 11 Drew Mitchell, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Grayson Hart, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Chris Alcock, 6 Dave Dennis, 5 Kane Douglas, 4 Dean Mumm, 3 Paddy Ryan, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Benn Robinson (captain).
Replacements: 16 John Ulugia, 17 Jeremy Tilse, 18 Sitaleki Timani, 19 Lopeti Timani, 20 Brendan McKibbin, 21 Tom Carter, 22 Tom Kingston.
Brumbies: 15 Robbie Coleman, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Andrew Smith, 12 Pat McCabe, 11 Jesse Mogg, 10 Zack Holmes, 9 Nic White, 8 Ben Mowen (captain), 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Peter Kimlin, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Scott Fardy, 3 Dan Palmer, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Ben Alexander.
Replacements: 16 Anthony Hegarty, 17 Ruaidhri Murphy, 18 Leon Power, 19 Ita Vaea, 20 Ian Prior, 21 Tevita Kuridrani, 22 Cam Crawford.
Referee: Keith Brown (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Andrew Lees (Australia), Julian Pritchard (Australia)
TMO: George Ayoub (Australia)
Cheetahs v Stormers
(Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein - Kick-off: 15.00; 13.00 GMT)
The Stormers face a particularly tricky hurdle on their quest to secure a home semifinal when they take on a Cheetahs side with nothing to lose in Bloemfontein on Saturday.
The Free State team will take the game to the Stormers on their home turf and are intent on having a go at the visitors' formidable defensive system which has been the bedrock of their success this season.
The Cheetahs have been frustratingly inconsistent, as proven last week against the Bulls when they produced some breathtaking rugby after being knocked out of the contest completely, but they can still make it their most successful season ever with one more win so they will give it everything.
Consistency has been the hallmark of the Stormers' season, but they have lacked a cutting edge and have not earned a single bonus point which has some critics doubting their ability to produce the goods in the knock-out phase of the competition.
The Cape side have been hit hard by injuries to their pack this season, and with a few first-choice forwards back in action this weekend they will be hoping for a much better set-piece display than last week when the Lions exposed them in that area at Newlands.
Cheetahs coach Naka Drotske has taken the opportunity to look at a few different options, and with players fighting to impress ahead of the Currie Cup they will have plenty of motivation to knock the Stormers over.
With the Cheetahs keen to get their hands on the ball to run and the Stormers intent on pressurising them territorially we could be set for a high-scoring spectacle, although the expected wet weather could change the complexion of the game.
Stormers coach Allister Coetzee is confident that his team is ready for anything the Cheetahs or the conditions throw at them.
"I think it is about our players being knowledgeable and experienced enough to adapt on the day. We play at Newlands in a wet winter every year so we should not have a problem with the conditions," he said.
2012: Stormers won 16-14 in Cape Town
2011: Stormers won 44-34 in Bloemfontein
2011: Stormers won 21-15 in Cape Town
2010: Stormers won 21-8 in Cape Town
2009: Stormers won 28-22 in Bloemfontein
Prediction: The Cheetahs will prove a stern test for the Stormers in Bloemfontein, but the Cape side should do enough to close this one down by about five points.
Cheetahs: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Nico Scheepers, 13 Robert Ebersohn, 12 Barry Geel, 11 Cameron Jacobs, 10 Riaan Smit, 9 Piet van Zyl, 8 Justin Downey, 7 Pieter Labuschagne, 6 Heinrich Brüssow, 5 Izak van der Westhuizen, 4 Andries Ferreira (George Earle), 3 WP Nel, 2 Adriaan Strauss (captain), 1 Trevor Nyakane.
Replacements: 16 Hercu Liebenberg, 17 Marcel van der Merwe, 18 George Earle (Waltie Vermeulen), 19 Ashley Johnson, 20 Tewis de Bruyn, 21 Sias Ebersohn, 22 Philip Snyman.
Stormers: 15 Joe Pietersen, 14 Gio Aplon, 13 Juan de Jongh, 12 Jean de Villiers (captain), 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Peter Grant, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Jebb Sinclair, 7 Rynhardt Elstadt, 6 Siya Kolisi, 5 Andries Bekker, 4 De Kock Steenkamp, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Deon Fourie, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Replacements: 16 Tiaan Liebenberg, 17 Deon Carstens, 18 Quinn Roux, 19 Don Armand, 20 Louis Schrueder, 21 Burton Francis, 22 Gerhard van den Heever.
Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Sindile Mayende (South Africa), Reuben Rossouw (South Africa),
TMO: Gerrie Coetzee (South Africa)
Lions v Rebels
(Coca-Cola Park, Johannesburg - Kick-off: 17.05; 15.05 GMT)
The Lions and the Rebels will meet each other for the first time on Saturday with just pride on the line, although both teams will be determined to finish the season well.
The Rebels arrive in South Africa with a depleted squad that is missing some star players so it seems like a tough assignment against the Lions who notched a bonus-point victory over the Sharks in their last home game.
Despite their issues off the field the Lions followed that up with a solid showing against the Stormers last week, and they will be keen to put the visitors under pressure up on the Highveld.
The Lions were impressive in the set-pieces in Cape Town last week and if they can dominate the Rebels in that area then the Melbourne side should struggle to assert themselves.
The Rebels will be hoping that their veterans in the backline like Mark Gerrard and Stirling Mortlock can use their experience to deal with the challenge the Lions throw down, but their forward pack will have to do plenty of hard work if they are to give those players any opportunity to shine.
One point of interest in this game is that it will be refereed by Francisco Pastrana from Argentina who becomes the first referee from outside of Australia, South Africa and New Zealand to referee a Super Rugby game..
Prediction: The Rebels are depleted and away from home at the end of a long season so it his hard to see them keeping up with the Lions who have shown some encouraging form in recent weeks. Lions to win by about 10 points.
Lions: 15 James Kamana, 14 Lionel Mapoe, 13 Waylon Murray, 12 Butch James, 11 Anthonie Volminck, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Michael Bondesio, 8 Joshua Strauss (captain), 7 Grant Hattingh, 6 Derick Minnie, 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Hendrik Roodt, 3 Jacobie Adriaanse, 2 Callie Visagie, 1 JC Janse van Rensburg.
Replacements: 16 Martin Bezuidenhout, 17 Ruan Dreyer, 18 Etienne Oosthuizen, 19 Jaco Kriel, 20 Ross Cronje, 21 JR Esterhuizen, 22 Ruan Combrinck.
Melbourne Rebels: 15 Julian Huxley, 14 Mark Gerrard, 13 Mitch Inman, 12 Stirling Mortlock (captain), 11 Cooper Vuna, 10 James Hilgendorf, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Gareth Delve, 7 Hugh Perrett, 6 Tim Davidson, 5 Al Campbell, 4 Cadeyrn Neville, 3 Jono Owen, 2 Ged Robinson, 1 Nic Henderson.
Replacements: 16 Adam Freier, 17 Paul Alo-Emile, 18 Hugh Pyle, 19 Luke Jones, 20 Richard Kingi, 21 Lachie Mitchell, 22 Lloyd Johannson.
Referee: Francisco Pastrana (Argentina)
Assistant referees: Jaco Peyper (South Africa), Stefan Breytenbach (South Africa)
TMO: Johann Meuwesen (South Africa)
By Michael de Vries