The Melbourne Rebels will be out to change their fortunes on Sunday ahead of the international break.
The Rebels have been confronted by no shortage of challenges to date this season – testing the squad’s depth, focus and mentality – but none bigger than the current three-game losing streak.
The last game before the four-week Super Rugby hiatus provides the Victorians an opportunity to take stock of the season and re-establish some momentum heading into the end of the season.
Losses to the Blues, Brumbies and Chiefs have put the Rebels on the back foot but Head Coach Tony McGahan believes the challenges have provided his young side with a valuable learning curve.
“We understand where we’re at (in Super Rugby), we’ve still got some rough edges around what we’re doing and we need to make sure we knock them off as quickly as possible,” McGahan said.
“We’re learning every harsh lesson possible but we’ve got a really good group of players, good people on staff and an organisation going terrific off the field so we just need to continue to work away.
“It’s not easy but that’s the way it is. We need to show resilience in what we’re doing and get back onto winning this week.
“We’ve got a four-week break with the June internationals, it’s a long time to be carrying away a loss, so we need to get a result, get to six (wins) and six (losses), and give us something to chase when we get back.”
With Luke Jones, Tamati Ellison, Cam Crawford and Pat Leafa all missing from the Rebels line up for the game against the Chiefs last weekend, McGahan isn’t about to blame the steady stream of injuries for the side’s results.
“Our expectation is that we get on with it, Super Rugby is never a nice straight road, there are obstacles along the way, the good sides deal with them and the others handle them as an excuse,” McGahan said.
The Rebels take on the Force for the second time this season after their first round game which will be remembered for Reece Hodge’s two-try and 20-point Super Rugby debut.
Captain Nic Stirzaker is wary of a physical Force side that are excellent exponents of the breakdown.
“They’re really strong at the breakdown, they’ve got a good backrow and really physical, they play a pretty tight game,” Stirzaker said.
“We’ve had some really tight games with them in the past so we just want to front up physically and make sure we win the breakdown contest.”
The Rebels have won eight of 11 previous meetings against the Force, including a 25-19 victory in first round at nib Stadium.
The Western Force will no doubt be throwing everything they have at the Melbourne Rebels when they run out onto AAMI Park on Sunday afternoon as the team goes in search of its third win of the season. The Force are coming off a heart breaking defeat to the Blues last week where the Western Australian’s dominated the game but were unable to finish the job while the Rebels went down to the Chiefs last week, putting a serious dent in their finals chances. After going down the Melbournians by six-points in the first round of the season the Force will be looking for revenge in the final match before breaking for the June Test window. Clash with the Rebels are notoriously tight encounters with just one of the 11 meetings between the sides having been decided by more than seven points.
Key Match-Up: Young Guns
Kyle Godwin vs Reece Hodge
After returning from a knee injury suffered against the Rebels in Round One Kyle Godwin has been getting better and better with each outing and will again look to put his best foot forward this weekend. The 23-year-old has been in good form straightening the Western Force attack and carrying the ball with trademark fearlessness and aggression. Quickly approaching the 50-game milestone Godwin is widely regarded as one of the hardest working members of the Western Force team and gets through a mountain of work every match. Over the last two matches Godwin has averaged 10 runs per game for 66-metres and 11 per game at an impressive 95% success rate and will look for more of the same on Sunday.
Melbourne Rebels utility back Reece Hodge has had a breakout debut season scoring seven tries in his eight matches so far this year to rank top try scorer in Rebels squad and the equal third highest in the competition. Hodge leads the Rebels in run metres per game and the Victorians have used the 21-year-old all over the backline this year from full-back right through to flyhalf. Hodge put in a man of the match performance against the Western Force on debut in Round and has proved it was no fluke with consistent performances throughout the season so the Force will need to be wary of the youngster and get up quickly to close down his time and space on the ball.
Game Breakers: Last Men Standing
Dane Haylett-Petty vs Mike Harris:
Both fullbacks have recently been named in the Wallabies 39-man squad for the June Test Series with England and no doubt Wallabies Head Coach Michael Cheika will no doubt be watching with a keen eye as the two No.15’s face-off.
Dane Haylett-Petty has been putting up massive performances for the Western Force week-in week and is undoubtedly one of the form fullbacks in the competition and the ‘Bull’ will be looking for another big game this weekend as his continues to push his case for Wallabies call up for the June Test window. Commanding the full back position Haylett-Petty has been spectacular in defence showing incredible poise and his ability under the high ball has been second to none. Not only has the 26-year-old been strong in defence his is a constant threat with ball in hand leading the Western Force in runs, run metres and try assists. With just one game left before the Wallaby announce their squad you can expect another big performance from the Force’s No.15.
Rebels’ fullback Mike Harris is beginning to hit his straps after a long stint on the sidelines after in jurying his quad against the Force in Round One. In his second match back from injury Harris was one of the Rebels best in their 36-15 loss to the scoring a try and setting up another to go with 79 run metres. Despite still work back to his best after eight weeks out the Force will be sure to pay the experienced full respect as the 63-time capped 27-year-old has the ability to win matches for his side.
Date: Sunday, May 29
Venue: AAMI PARK, Melbourne
Kick-off: 16:00 local