While a maiden Super Rugby finals berth may be out of reach, the Melbourne Rebels intend to go down swinging starting with the Stormers on Saturday night.
With three games of the regular season remaining, the Rebels are in 12th place but have yet to beat a team ranked above them on the competition ladder.
Coach Tony McGahan said they wanted the scalp of the Stormers, who sit third in the overall standings, followed by the front-running Crusaders next week.
“We haven’t beaten a side above us this year so that’s a really key point for us,” McGahan said before Saturday’s AAMI Park match, which is their final home game of the season.
“We’ve started to take a few scalps over the last few years and the Stormers, followed by the Crusaders, represent that.”
With six wins to their credit, the Rebels also need another victory to match last year’s effort, which was their most successful since joining the competition in 2011.
Captain Nic Stirzaker will be missing after suffering an ankle injury at training, with Wallabies back-rower Sean McMahon taking over as skipper for the fourth time this season.
Ben Meehan, who covered Stirzaker when he was out with a shoulder problem earlier in the season, will again start at No.9.
McMahon started in two of Australia’s June Tests against England and came off the bench in the other and McGahan said he was a little battle weary but ready for a strong finish for the Rebels.
“The thing with Sean is it’s not only the games but it’s the way he trains… so four weeks for him in that environment… we gave him a few days off and he’s come back keen to go,” McGahan said.
The Cape Town-based Stormers trail only the Lions in the South African conference and McGahan said they were a challenge across the park.
“They’ve got a really strong forward pack, exciting midfield and they’ve got eight or nine Springbok representatives so we need to get our set piece right and how we turn their kicks into attacking opportunities will be key,” he said.