Cape Town - The Stormers will feel like they’re next in line for a win after dominating most facets of play and still coming up short in Sydney last week, but the Rebels may be one place ahead of them in the queue.
Allister Coetzee’s side will travel to Melbourne on Friday to battle a Rebels side that has lost four in a row by a total of 17 points.
Last week’s 36-32 reverse against the Blues was preceded by losses against the Chiefs (39-33), Crusaders (30-26) and Kings (30-27).
The Stormers have yet to face the Kings this season, but their record in matches against the Blues, Chiefs and Crusaders is 1-2, with a points-difference of -4.
The margins are small in Super Rugby, as evidenced by the fact that the two-win Rebels, 12th on the overall standings, have won half as many games as the 10th-placed Stormers in 2013.
Even though a look at how these two sides have fared against common opponents suggests that they are much alike, the Rebels and Stormers are at opposite ends of the tactical spectrum.
The Rebels can’t stop teams from scoring. A tally of 47 tries conceded in 11 games bears testimony to this point.
Conversely, the Stormers can’t get across the tryline, and have scored a paltry 17 tries in 10 outings.
Coetzee is quietly rubbing his hands at the prospect of facing a team that will attempt to run through the Stormers’ vaunted defensive line.
His cause has been helped by the withdrawal of the Rebels’ two chief playmakers, with Wallabies duo Kurtley Beale (in rehab) and James O’Connor (injured) unavailable.
O’Connor’s replacement, Angus Roberts, has also been ruled out with a dislocated shoulder which means coach Damien Hill may have to rely on a dice roll to determine which one of his available backs is pressed into service at No 10.
Nevertheless, the Rebels will have slept peacefully this week after Stormers hard men Duane Vermeulen and Rynhardt Elstadt were ruled out with long-term knee complaints.
These injuries dictate that the Stormers will essentially have to field the likes of Don Armand and Nizaam Carr and, right on cue, forwards coach Matt Proudfoot on Tuesday spoke of the need to “give young guys a chance”.
Armand and Carr may well develop into solid Super Rugby campaigners, but they currently stack up against the duo they will replace like boys to men.
Last week’s loss has effectively brought the Stormers’ play-off drive to the end of the road and Coetzee and his charges are now on a desperate mission to salvage some dignity after regressing spectacularly this season.
The bad news for Armand and Carr is that hulking Rebels skipper Scott Higginbotham is likely to play a starring role.
Higginbotham’s ball-carrying statistics are a mirror-image of the numbers put up by Vermeulen to date, and it remains to be seen who in the Stormers’ depleted pack will seize the opportunity to stand up to the Rebels’ go-to man.
Big-time players step up in clutch situations and, in the same way that the Rebels will look to Higginbotham in O’Connor’s absence, Jean de Villiers is the safe bet to load the Stormers on his back and take up Vermeulen’s slack.