Preview: Super Rugby, Round Four - Part One
Preview: Super Rugby, Round Four - Part OneSHARE
After a scratchy win in the opening round, the Cape Town-based franchise lost to the Waratahs and Crusaders on tour.
They get Week Four underway when they travel to Dunedin to face another tricky New Zealand opponent, the Highlanders.
The Stormers have suffered nine consecutive defeats in New Zealand – going back to Apr 2013 for their last win in tour in Aotearoa.
The second of our Friday matches is an all-Australian affair – the revitalised Rebels, and current Australian conference leaders, against the Rebels.
We look at the Friday matches!
Friday, March 9:
Highlanders v Stormers
(Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin – Kick-off: 19.35; 08.35 SA time; 06.35 GMT)
The Stormers have suffered a host of crippling injuries and injuries will again play a crucial role when they run out in the Glasshouse in Dunedin.
There are the well-documented cases – like Springbok Eben Etzebeth and John Schickerling.
However, the loss of Cobus Wiese could be this week's most telling story.
Wiese, who is nursing a shoulder injury, put down a big marker against the Crusaders last week – making 15 tackles from 16 attempts, had 14 carries for 59 metres gained, made two clean breaks, three turnovers won and a try assist.
It is that kind of workrate the Stormers will require against the Highlanders.
Stormers coach Robbie Fleck said that Wiese has shown in no uncertain terms that he is a star of the future.
"For a 20-year-old to deliver a performance like that in New Zealand is outstanding," Fleck said, adding: "He was absolutely everywhere and really stuck his hand up.
"It was a top performance from such a young kid physically and emotionally, just his work-rate around the park."
Highlanders coach Aaron Mauger was not ready to dismiss the Stormers, despite their poor start to the season.
"In patches, they have been dangerous," Mauger said.
"They rely on momentum through their forwards, so we expect a physical encounter.
"We are well aware of the threats and have prepared to meet those challenges."
Fleck said the Highlanders are a little more about "special plays".
"[They use] clever tricks and attacking kicks," the Stormers mentor said.
"They are dangerous from turnover possession and are about speeding the game up and playing at tempo.
"There are different challenges, but we have done some good work and put some good plans in place so we are looking forward to the challenge there."
2017: Highlanders won 57-14. Dunedin
2015: Highlanders won 39-21, Dunedin
2014: Stormers won 29-28, Cape Town
2012: Stormers won 21-6, Dunedin
2011: Stormers won 18-6, Cape Town
Prediction: The Highlanders have won their last two games against the Stormers, snapping a six-game losing streak against them prior. The Highlanders have won their last seven games on home turf, scoring 40+ points in all but one of those fixtures. The Stormers have now lost their last nine games in a row in New Zealand, losing by an average margin of 17 points in that time. The Highlanders have recorded a 100 percent scrum success rate in eight of their last nine home games, winning 63 of their 64 scrums in those nine games. Damian de Allende beat eight defenders last round, more than any other player and his most in a single game since beating 12 Brumbies' defenders at the end of 2015. The Stormers do have the ability to cause an upset, but the smart money is on the Highlanders to win – by about 15 points.
Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith (captain), 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Rob Thompson, 12 Teihorangi Walden, 11 Tevita Nabura, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 Dillon Hunt, 6 Liam Squire, 5 Tom Franklin, 4 Jackson Hemopo, 3 Siate Tokolahi, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Daniel Lienert-Brown.
Replacements: 16 Greg Pleasants-Tate, 17 Aki Seiuli, 18 Tyrel Lomaz, 19 Shannon Frizell, 20 Elliot Dixon, 21 Josh Renton, 22 Fletcher Smith, 23 Matt Faddes.
Stormers: 15 Sarel Marais, 14 Dillyn Leyds, 13 EW Viljoen, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Damian Willemse, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Nizaam Carr, 7 Kobus van Dyk, 6 Siya Kolisi (captain), 5 Chris van Zyl, 4 Jan de Klerk, 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Ramone Samuels, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Replacements: 16 Dean Muir, 17 Jacobus Janse van Rensburg, 18 Carlu Sadie, 19 Salmaan Moerat, 20 Pieter-Steph du Toit/George Whitehead, 21 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 22 Justin Phillips, 23 Johannes Engelbrecht.
Referee: Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Paul Williams (New Zealand), Angus Mabey (New Zealand)
TMO: Glenn Newman (New Zealand)
Rebels v Brumbies
(AAMI Park, Melbourne – Kick-off: 19.45 local; 08.45 GMT)
Just a month ago you would not have said so, but the Melbourne Rebels are going into Friday's blockbuster against the Brumbies as the favourites.
Despite their extraordinary recruitment drive in the off-season, the Rebels continued to get low ratings.
The Brumbies and Waratahs were rated Australia's best prospects.
Fresh from their 20-point win over the Sunwolves in Tokyo last weekend, the Rebels have gone into an attacking mindset.
"I think the big key for us is to throw some punches of our own," coach Dave Wessels said.
"We've got some firepower in our team and we need to come out with the mindset that we want to attack games.
"It's a subtle difference between playing to win and playing not to lose.
"We want to be a team that plays to win so we're probably talking more about ourselves than about the opposition.
"We're just focused on developing our own game."
Rebels wing Jack Maddocks led the charge with the franchise's maiden hat-trick, but it was a team effort that impressed Wessels the most.
"I felt our game took another step forward in Japan, mostly in terms of our attack," Wessels said.
"We developed a little bit more rhythm than we had in the previous week.
"That's the thing that we want to keep going at because we've got some dangerous players and big ball carriers."
2017: Brumbies won 32-3, Canberra
2017: Rebels won 19-17, Melbourne
2016: Brumbies won 30-22, Melbourne
2015: Rebels won 13-8, Canberra
2015: Brumbies won 20-15, Melbourne
Prediction: The Brumbies have won nine of the previous 13 encounters between these teams in Super Rugby history, though the Rebels picked up a two-point win in their last meeting in Melbourne. The Rebels will be looking for a third consecutive win for the first time in their Super Rugby history. The Brumbies have won one of their last four Australian derbies; they had previously won 10 such fixtures in succession. The Brumbies won 13 turnovers in their last start against the Rebels; only twice in the last six seasons have they won more in a single game (14 v Waratahs in Round Four, 2017 & 14 v Cheetahs in Round Five, 2016). Jack Maddocks has been directly involved in five tries this campaign (three tries, two assists), more than any other player in the competition. It should be a real arm-wrestle, but the Rebels should take it by eight points.
Rebels: 15 Dane Haylett-Petty, 14 Jack Maddocks, 13 Tom English (captain), 12 Reece Hodge, 11 Sefa Naivalu, 10 Jack Debreczeni, 9 Will Genia, 8 Amanaki Mafi, 7 Angus Cottrell, 6 Lopeti Timani, 5 Ross Haylett-Petty, 4 Matt Philip, 3 Jermaine Ainsley, 2 Jordan Uelese, 1 Tetera Faulkner
Replacements: 16 Anaru Rangi, 17 Ben Daley, 18 Sam Talakai, 19 Colby Fainga'a, 20 Richard Hardwick, 21 Michael Ruru, 22 Billy Meakes, 23 Marika Koroibete
Brumbies: 15 Tom Banks, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Kyle Godwin, 11 Chance Peni, 10 Christian Lealiifano, 9 Joe Powell, 8 Isi Naisarani, 7 Lolo Fakaosilea, 6 Lachlan McCaffrey, 5 Sam Carter (captain), 4 Rory Arnold, 3 Allan Alaalatoa, 2 Josh Mann-Rea, 1 Scott Sio
Replacements: 16 Folau Fainga'a, 17 Faalelei Sione, 18 Leslie Leuluaialii-Makin, 19 Richie Arnold, 20 Tom Cusack, 21 Matt Lucas, 22 Wharenui Hawera, 23 Andy Muirhead
Referee: William Houston (Australia)
Assistant referees: Graham Cooper (Australia), James Leckie (Australia)
TMO: Ian Smith (Australia)
Compiled by Jan de Koning
* Statistics provided by Opta Sports