Preview: Rebels v Stormers

With Super Rugby's business end drawing closer, both the Rebels and Stormers will be desperate for victory when they clash in Melbourne on Saturday.

Although the Rebels look destined to finish outside the play-off places, they will be highly motivated to wrack up their seventh win of the season which will equal last year's tally of victories – their best ever return since the franchise's first Super Rugby campaign in 2011.

The home side have become a competitive unit since Tony McGahan became their head coach at the end of the 2013 campaign. This campaign has been one of steady growth while the form of talented youngsters like Sean McMahon, Lopeti Timani Jonah Placid and Reece Hodge augurs well for the future of Australia's youngest franchise.

This is the Rebels' last home match of the season – their final two league matches are away against the Crusaders and Reds – and Luke Jones, who is leaving to join Bordeaux Bègles at the end of the season, expects a tough battle from their South African opposition.

"Stormers are a good physical South African side with a lot of good Test players coming through so they’ll look to stomp their authority," he said.

"They’ve got quite a few players coming back from playing Test matches so they’ve played a lot of games which can work in our favour, we’re coming in fresher.

"It will be a huge game and a great way to finish our home games at AAMI Park this season."

The Stormers, meanwhile know victory will consolidate their position at the top of the Africa One table. They currently have 36 points from 12 matches which is four points more than the Bulls who have played the same number of matches.

The visitors head into this match without the services of two of their stalwarts in first-choice full-back Cheslin Kolbe and co-captain Juan de Jongh.

The duo are part of South Africa's Sevens squad for next month's Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro but in Jaco Taute and Daniel du Plessis they have adept replacements.

The Stormers have won three of their four encounters with the Rebels but the Rebels have won four of their last six home matches against South African opposition, including a 30-21 win against the Stormers in 2013. 

The last time these teams met: The sides met at the same stage in last year's competition with the Stormers claiming a 31-15 victory in Round 15 in Cape Town. The hosts led 18-7 at the interval thanks to tries by Damian de Allende and Dillyn Leyds while the Rebels were still in the contest thanks to Dom Shipperley's try. Demetri Catrakilis' boot also helped the hosts, as he kicked four penalties and Leyds crossed for his second try after the break and Tom English also scored a consolation try for the Rebels.

Players to watch: Keep an eye on Wallabies back-row Sean McMahon, who has beaten 43 defenders in this campaign, the third most of any player and more than any other forward. McMahon is a robust competitor, whose physicality is one of his main strengths and he uses this to great effect in attack and defence. The added responsibility of captaincy won't be a problem for the 22-year-old who plays with a maturity beyond his years. Another Rebels player who has impressed this year is rookie centre Reece Hodge, whose impressive performances earned him a call-up to the Wallabies squad. The 21-year-old, who is also capable of playing at full-back and fly-half, is a strong runner with a massive boot and is also solid in defence.

Stormers locks Pieter-Steph du Toit and Eben Etzebeth showed in the Springboks' recent series win over Ireland that they have the potential to become the world's best second row combination. Both are impressive at performing their line-out duties but also enjoy the physical nature of the game and are solid scrummagers. They also put their bodies on the line in defence but are also adept ball carriers and will be expected to get their side over the gainline with some strong carries.

Team news: Wallabies back-row Sean McMahon will captain the Rebels for the sixth time this season after scrum-half Nic Stirzaker injured his ankle at training on Tuesday and will miss the return of the Super Rugby season. Rebels head coach Tony McGahan has made just two personnel changes to the starting line-up that defeated the Western Force in the club’s last outing before the four-week international break. The injury to Stirzaker will see Ben Meehan return to the starting line-up for the first time since Round Five while Jonah Placid will start on the right wing as Sefa Naivalu shifts to outside centre.

Jaco Taute will make his first appearance this season for the Stormers in this fixture. The powerful utility back suffered a knee injury in pre-season, and makes his return to Super Rugby action at full-back in place of Cheslin Kolbe. A fit-again Schalk Burger also returns to the starting line-up at number eight and will captain the side in the absence of Juan de Jongh. The only other change to the team that beat the Cheetahs at Newlands before the June break sees Vincent Koch replace the injured Frans Malherbe at tighthead prop. On the replacements bench prop JP Smith and utility back Scott van Breda are both in line to make their Stormers debuts should they take the field.

Form: The Rebels suffered back-to-back defeats to the Brumbies (30-22) and Chiefs (36-15) in Rounds 12 and 13 but returned to the victory trail when they beat the Western Force (27-22) in the final match before the break for the June Tests.

The Stormers registered a much-needed 31-24 win over the Cheetahs in Cape Town in their last match before the international break. Prior to that, they suffered a narrow defeat at home to the Waratahs (32-30) before drawing with the Sunwolves (17-17) in Singapore in Round 12 but in their next match they lost (17-13) to the Bulls in a bruising derby in Pretoria.

Prediction: The Rebels will be highly motivated in their own backyard but the returning Springboks will give the visitors the edge. Stormers to win by five points.

Previous results:

2015: Stormers won 31-15 in Cape Town
2013: Rebels won 30-21 in Melbourne
2012: Stormers won 26-21 in Cape Town
2011: Stormers won 40-3 in Melbourne

The teams:

Melbourne Rebels: 15 Mike Harris, 14 Jonah Placid, 13 Sefa Naivalu, 12 Reece Hodge, 11 Tom English, 10 Jack Debreczeni, 9 Ben Meehan, 8 Colby Fainga’a 7, Sean McMahon (c), 6 Jordy Reid, 5 Lopeti Timani, 4 Luke Jones, 3 Toby Smith, 2 James Hanson, 1 Cruze Ah Nau 
Replacements: 16 Pat Leafa, 17 Tom Moloney, 18 Laurie Weeks, 19 Culum Retallick, 20 Adam Thomson, 21 Mick Snowden, 22 Mitch Inman, 23 Paul Asquith

Stormers: 15 Jaco Taute, 14 Kobus van Wyk, 13 Daniel du Plessis, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Leolin Zas, 10 Jean-Luc du Plessis, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Schalk Burger (c), 7 Siya Kolisi, 6 Nizaam Carr, 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Oli Kebble
Replacements: 16 Scarra Ntubeni, 17 Alistair Vermaak, 18 JP Smith, 19 JD Schickerling, 20 Rynhardt Elstadt, 21 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 22 Louis Schreuder, 23 Scott van Breda

Date: Saturday, July 2
Venue: AAMI Park, Melbourne
Kick-off: 19:45 local (09:45 GMT)
Referee: Angus Gardner (Australia)
Assistant Referees: Nic Berry (Australia), Amy Perrett (Australia)
TMO: Ian Smith (Australia)