The Rebels tackle the Hurricanes in Melbourne knowing that a win will move them to the top of the Australian Conference.
After spending their first four seasons searching for an identity Tony McGahan’s side have made huge strides over the last two years, putting them in position to leapfrog the Brumbies into top spot in Australia if they can overturn 2015 finalists the Hurricanes on Friday.
It’s a tall order but far from out of reach for the Rebels, especially if they play with the same determination which we witnessed in the first half against the Waratahs during their win back in Round Six.
Blowout losses against the Bulls and Highlanders this season can’t be ignored but the Rebels have picked off straightforward opponents – with wins over the Force, Reds and Sunwolves – before that triumph in Sydney.
Credit has to go towards the recruitment of James Hanson and Adam Thomson, experienced heads bolstering a pack which already imposes itself on the opposition and dominates the set-piece through the outstanding Luke Jones.
Jack Debreczeni’s development continues at pace and while the Rebels lack the blockbuster names of O’Connor, Cipriani and Beale from the past, what they have now is a united squad with character in spades. It’s an alluring setup.
Their defence however will need to be on top form to keep the Hurricanes from racking up another high score.
Chris Boyd’s squad have now scored 40 plus points in three consecutive matches for the first time since 1997. Never before have they done that in four consecutive Super Rugby games.
With each passing week those early season jitters seem to ease away, despite the Jaguares giving them a physical examination last Saturday. Even then the ‘Canes still scored six tries, including a Julian Savea hat-trick.
There is plenty of work to be done in order to catch the leading trio of the Chiefs, Highlanders and Crusaders, but the Hurricanes can take heart from the fact that have won their last three matches against the Rebels, with their only loss coming in their first ever encounter with the Melbourne side.
Patience after that blustering start might just be the mantra for their season – after all, the Hurricanes have scored five tries after seven or more phases in possession this season. No team has scored more.
Team news: Three changes from the side that beat the Jaguares in Wellington last week were made by Hurricanes head coach Chris Boyd. Vince Aso and Matt Proctor will form a new midfield as they partner for the first time this season. Aso replaces Ngani Laumape, who moves to the reserves, while Proctor shifts in from the right wing to take over from Willis Halaholo at centre. Up front Vaea Fifita gets a start at lock in place of the injured Blade Thomson.
Rebels head coach Tony McGahan has named an unchanged side. Captain Nic Stirzaker has overcome a head knock which saw him substituted during the first half against the Waratahs while Sefa Naivalu’s return to Super Rugby from a broken leg continues with a second consecutive week on the reserves bench. Flanker Scott Fuglistaller has been named amongst the replacements and will record his 50th Super Rugby appearance should he take the field.
2015: Hurricanes won 36-12 in Wellington
2014: Hurricanes won 25-15 in Melbourne
2012: Hurricanes won 66-24 in Wellington
2011: Rebels won 42-25 in Melbourne
Rebels: 15 Reece Hodge, 14 Dom Shipperley, 13 Tamati Ellison, 12 Mitch Inman, 11 Cam Crawford, 10 Jack Debreczeni, 9 Nic Stirzaker (c), 8 Adam Thomson, 7 Sean McMahon, 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 Scott Fuglistaller, 21 Ben Meehan, 22 Dan Hawkins, 23 Sefa Naivalu
Hurricanes: 15 Jason Woodward, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Matt Proctor, 12 Vince Aso, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Victor Vito, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Brad Shields, 5 Michael Fatialofa, 4 Vaea Fifita, 3 Jeff Toomaga-Allen, 2 Dane Coles (c), 1 Reggie Goodes
Replacements: 16 Leni Apisai, 17 Chris Eves, 18 Ben May, 19 Mark Abbott, 20 Tony Lambourn, 21 Jamison Gibson-Park, 22 Otere Black, 23 Ngani Laumape
Date: Friday, April 15
Venue: AAMI Park, Melbourne
Time: 19:45 local (09:45 GMT)
Referee: Rohan Hoffmann
Assistant Referees: Damien Mitchelmore, Ed Martin
TMO: Peter Marshall