Rebels head coach Tony McGahan has made just one change to his starting line-up Saturday’s derby with the Reds in Melbourne.
Flanker Jordy Reid has been recalled to the Rebels run-on team for the side’s first home game of the season after coming off the bench to spark a second-half revival in the 45-25 loss to the Bulls last weekend.
The Rebels four-try second half came after Reid’s introduction, which included an instrumental run from the 24-year-old own the right touchline to set up scrumhalf Ben Meehan’s second try.
Adam Thomson, one of four former Reds in the Rebels’ 23-player squad, returns to the number eight jersey while Lopeti Timani has been named in the second row.
Sean McMahan will again lead the Rebels for a third consecutive week with captain Nic Stirzaker unavailable for selection as he continues his recovery from an off-season shoulder reconstruction.
The quad injury to Reece Hodge, sidelined for four-five weeks, has opened the door for Japanese international Kotaro Matsushima on the reserves bench, alongside Pat Leafa, Cruze Ah-Nau, Jamie Hagan, Sam Jeffries, Steve Cummins, Mick Snowden and Dan Hawkins.
Matsushima, who made his Super Rugby debut after getting a late call-up following the injury to Hodge at training on the eve of second round clash against the Bulls in Pretoria, will come up against compatriot Ayumu Goromaru.
“Injuries have played an unfortunately role early this season but we’ve got great depth in our squad and have complete confidence in our side’s ability to step up and take the opportunity,” said McGahan.
After starting their season on the road with an opening round victory over the Western Force in Perth and a second round 20-point loss to the Bulls last weekend, the Rebels return home for the first time this season.
The Rebels and Reds have split the last four fixtures, which included a 23-15 for the Rebels when the two sides last met at AAMI Park in Round 8 last year.
“A local derby is always exciting and there’s certainly no shortage of motivation for either the Rebels or Reds coming into this game,” McGahan said.
“After two big weeks on the road, it’s great to be back playing at AAMI Park tonight in front of the Rebels faithful, family and friends for the first time this season.”
Reds interim head coaches Nick Stiles and Matt O’Connor have made five changes to their starting line-up for Saturday’s derby with the Rebels in Melbourne.
The side features two changes to the front row, with loosehead prop Sef Fa’agase and Andrew Ready set to make their run-on debut.
Fa’agase replaces Ben Daley, who has shifted to the reserves, while Ready slots in for Saia Fainga’a who will miss this weekend due to a foot injury. Fainga’a’s absence also means Brisbane City hooker Matt Mafi has the potential to make his Queensland and Super Rugby debut from the reserves.
The other change to the pack sees Brisbane City flanker Waita Setu called into the starting side for the first time, after making his debut last weekend, with Curtis Browning moved to the reserves.
Stiles said: “The selection panel decided to make a few changes, first and foremost because we haven’t been getting the results we’ve all been working for.
“Sef (Fa’agase) has been coming on and doing a good job with his ball carries, he’s been explosive in contact and on top of that he’s been scrummaging well. It’s good that we have the depth in the front row that we are able to call on a number of strong set piece players if we need to.
“Andrew (Ready) has had a lot of minutes in the last two games and at no stage has the quality of the set piece dropped. He’s also worked hard on his ball carrying in the off-season and we’re starting to see the fruits of that labour. The added benefit we have with him is he’s quite strong over the ball and we expect the breakdown to be a key element on Saturday.
“Waita (Setu) offers us line speed and a good option at the breakdown. We know the Rebels will provide a strong challenge at the contact area and Waita is a genuine on-baller.
“Matt (Mafi) stands to make his debut following two seasons for Brisbane City in the NRC. He’s excellent at the set-piece elements of the game and has worked hard throughout the pre-season for this opportunity.”
In the backs, Anthony Fainga’a has been called into the starting side at inside centre for his first Super Rugby match since May last year, shifting Karmichael Hunt to starting full-back and Ayumu Goromaru to the reserves.
O’Connor said: “It’s good to see Anthony (Fainga’a) fit and back in the starting side. He has played 83 Super Rugby games and 23 Tests and brings valuable experience to the team,” O’Connor said.
“Anthony is experienced and abrasive and those are two traits that will benefit us against the Rebels.
“With Karmichael (Hunt), he has demonstrated his best position for the team at the moment is at full-back. Having Ayumu (Goromaru) in the reserves adds experience to the bench and the ability to call on a world-class goalkicker when required.
“The side has worked hard to build from the difficult lessons we learned last week. We will continue to play attacking rugby and we’re developing that, but with that intention comes a responsibility to look after the ball and that will be crucial against the Rebels.”
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Reds 8, Rebels 2
In Melbourne: Reds 4, Rebels 1
STATS THAT MATTER
– The Reds have won eight of the last 10 clashes between these teams since the Rebels’ admission to Super Rugby, though the Melbourne outfit have recorded their two wins in the last four against against the Reds.
– The Rebels have led the Reds at the half-time break on four occasions, winning none, though both their wins against the Reds have come after being level at the major interval.
– The Reds have won only two of their last eight away matches within Australia, though the first of those two wins was a 36-20 defeat of the Rebels in round 17 in 2014.
– The Reds boast the best lineout success so far this season (97%) and are one of three teams yet to lose a scrum on their own feed so far.
Melbourne Rebels: 15 Jonah Placid, 14 Dom Shipperley, 13 Tamati Ellison, 12 Mitch Inman, 11 Tom English, 10 Jack Debreczeni, 9 Ben Meehan, 8 Adam Thomson, 7 Sean McMahon (c), 6 Jordy Reid, 5 Lopeti Timani, 4 Luke Jones, 3 Laurie Weeks, 2 James Hanson, 1 Toby Smith
Replacements: 16 Pat Leafa, 17 Cruze Ah Nau, 18 Jamie Hagan, 19 Sam Jeffries, 20 Steve Cummins, 21 Mick Snowden, 22 Dan Hawkins, 23 Kotaro Matsushima
Reds: 15 Karmichael Hunt, 14 Chris Feauai-Sautia, 13 Samu Kerevi, 12 Anthony Fainga’a, 11 Eto Nabuli, 10 Jake McIntyre, 9 Nick Frisby, 8 Jake Schatz, 7 Waita Setu, 6 Hendrik Tui, 5 Rob Simmons (c), 4 Cadeyrn Neville, 3 Greg Holmes, 2 Andrew Ready, 1 Sef Fa’agase
Replacements: 16 Matt Mafi, 17 Ben Daley, 18 Sam Talakai, 19 Ben Matwijow, 20 Curtis Browning, 21 Scott Gale, 22 Sam Greene, 23 Ayumu Goromaru
Date: Saturday, March 12
Venue: AAMI Park, Melbourne
Kick-off: 19:40 local (08:40 GMT)
Referee: Paul Williams
Assistant Referees: Graham Cooper, Ed Martin
TMO: Peter Marshall