The Stormers will hope finals history doesn’t repeat when they face the Brumbies in a Super Rugby qualifying final without their influential Springbok No.8 Duane Vermeulen.
The Cape Town-based side host the Brumbies at Newlands on Sunday morning (AEST) in a do-or-die clash most punters and bookies expect them to win.
But the absence of enforcer Vermeulen, arguably South Africa’s best player, opens the door for Stephen Larkham’s Brumbies, and the coach knows it.
The South African conference winners have a poor record in the Super Rugby post-season without 28-year-old Vermeulen.
In 2012 they finished first overall, in 2011 they were second, and they lost in semi-finals both times with Vermeulen sidelined through injury.
The big backrower has been ruled out of the weekend’s Brumbies clash with a neck injury, depriving fans of a titanic breakdown battle with Wallaby ace David Pocock.
“He (Vermuelen) is a big ball runner and one of their more involved players in attack,” Larkham said.
“But then defensively at the breakdown, he’s almost immoveable over the ball.
“So I think that’s going to be their biggest lost, that breakdown pressure.”
Playing finals in South Africa holds no fears for the Brumbies who upset the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld in 2013 on their way to the title decider.
The Stormers beat the Brumbies 25-24 in Cape Town in May, but only after the Canberra side scored two tries to one and had goal kicker Christian Lealiifano miss a late sitter.
That match highlighted key Stormers weapon Demetri Catrakilis, who slotted five penalty goals, a conversion, and a field goal.
Five eighth Catrakilis has the best goal-kicking strike rate (89 per cent) in the competition, while the Brumbies have conceded the second-most penalties (11.3) of any team in Super Rugby this season.
“They’re known to open the game up with their skills and at other times they use their forwards to try and get a bit of go forward – very similar to us,” Larkham said.
“If you look at both of our games, there’s enough unpredictability in them to not go into the game confident or complacent.”
Wallabies duo Pocock and Matt Toomua have both been named for the Brumbies.
Pocock suffered concussion during last weekend’s loss to the Crusaders but is in line to play while Toomua looks set to again come off the bench in an unchanged line-up.
Two separate ankle injuries have restricted the star playmaker to just two games of the last eight.
STATS THAT MATTER
* The South African side have won three of their past four meetings with the Brumbies; before that they had won just one in 12
* The Canberra side have won two out of two in qualifying finals and this is the third year in a row they have played in this stage.
* The Stormers have lost five of their six games when reaching the post-season stage.