Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town - Two stirring Super Rugby weekends by the Melbourne Rebels in early May have the Stormers on their guard for a possible “banana peel” occasion against those foes at Newlands on Saturday.
The SA conference winners’ captain, Jean de Villiers, pointedly referred at a media briefing on Wednesday to the still-rookie Australian franchise’s performance over successive weeks then - against the Bulls and Crusaders respectively - in effectively urging his men to bring their A-game to the final match of the ordinary season programme (15:00 kick-off).
In what probably amounted to the high point of an otherwise embattled season, the Rebels first ran the 2010 champions from Loftus desperately close in Melbourne before losing 41-35 on May 4 and then produced unquestionably the finest moment of their short history by knocking over the Crusaders 28-19 only a week later.
They have rather receded again subsequently, although are still set to end considerably better-placed (the Rebels currently lie 12th) on the overall table than they did in the maiden season last year, when they were rock bottom.
“Any team can beat any team on the day; (those score-lines) show the quality of this competition,” De Villiers said.
“The Rebels team has improved so much this year, even when you consider that we had a tough game there last year before managing to (win with) a bonus point - there are quality players in their side.
“Especially if you look at the names in their backline ... Gerrard, Huxley, Mortlock, Vuna and also Phipps at scrumhalf, international players, you have to pitch up on the day otherwise you will get surprised and beaten.”
De Villiers said that even in their narrow defeat (37-32) to the Lions in Johannesburg last Saturday, the Rebels had posed a threat.
“They were sort of out of it at one point, around 20 points behind, and managed to grab the lead going into the last 10 minutes ... it just bears out what I said.”
Asked whether the Stormers’ decision-making during the match might be dictated by the knowledge that four tries could see them end atop the overall table and be in line for a home final, De Villiers replied: “Yes, I think so, but probably only towards the end of the match.
“I’ve learnt before that your priority must be to get in front first ... if that’s by three, six nine, or by five points at a time, it doesn’t really matter.
“There’s the psychological issue of just getting your nose in front. If you can have a 12- or 15-point buffer by scoring penalties, then you are in a position to take more chances and go for the tries.
“It’s all about building an innings and making the right calls at the right times. There may come a time in the game when, in one of those 50-50 moments of (decision-making) you opt for the lineout and maul rather than the shot at posts.”
Weather prospects suddenly look a lot better for the Stormers if they are, indeed, involved in a four-try chase on Saturday: from a strong rain prospect 48 hours ago, Saturday now looks partly cloudy and dry according to some forecasts.Teams:Stormers:
15 Joe Pietersen, 14 Gio Aplon, 13 Juan de Jongh, 12 Jean de Villiers, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Peter Grant, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Deon Fourie, 7 Rynhardt Elstadt, 6 Siya Kolisi, 5 Andries Bekker, 4 De Kock Steenkamp, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Tiaan Liebenberg, 1 Steven Kitshoff
Substitutes: 16 Brok Harris, 17 Deon Carstens, 18 Quinn Roux, 19 Jebb Sinclair, 20 Louis Schreuder, 21 Burton Francis, 22 Gerhard van den HeeverRebels:
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