The Rebels will be playing for pride when they host the in-form Lions at AAMI Park, Melbourne on Saturday.
The struggling Rebels will be hurting after their 44-3 humbling at the hands of the Kings. Their pride is no doubt wounded and they are also probably playing for their Super Rugby futures as they are in the frame as being an Australian side to be axed from next season.
Unfortunately for them, they have never beaten the Lions. In fact, the Melbourne-based side have not beaten a side visiting from outside Australia for more than a year, the last being a win over the Cheetahs in Round 9, 2016.
And to think they are going to turn it around now is naive thinking. Especially with the injuries to key players. Captain and scrum-half Nic Stirzaker has been ruled out while his back-up scrum-half Mitch Snowden is out for six weeks meaning they have had to recall Harrison Goddard from the Australia U20 side to provide cover on the bench. Third-choice Ben Meehan will start.
The Lions are on a six-match winning streak, the longest in their Super Rugby history. They are comfortably leading Africa Conference 2 and are second behind the Crusaders on the overall table.
However, they will be slightly disappointed that they were not able to beat the Force by a heftier margin last weekend. The tries have also dried up a bit of late and they will be looking to put that right this weekend against a leaky Rebels defence.
They also know that the true test will come when they face the New Zealand sides and will be looking to ramp up their points difference before that. Expect the men from Johannesburg to run the ball more than they did against the Force.
Meanwhile, Rebels general manager of football operations Baden Stephenson has bemoaned their recent injuries but knows this is not an excuse for performances that have simply not been good enough.
“We know that we’ve got the experience and skill, we’ve shown it in patches this season against the Chiefs, Waratahs and Brumbies, so we’ve got to back ourselves and throw everything that we’ve got against the Lions on Saturday,” Stephenson said.
The last time the teams met: A last-gasp converted try from Lionel Mapoe saved the blushes of the Lions as they claimed a come-from-behind victory. The Rebels stormed into a 13-0 lead courtesy of tries from Mitch Inman and Jonah Placid and a penalty from Mike Harris. But the Lions responded in the second-half with a Marnitz Boshoff try, two penalties from Elton Jantjies and of course Mapoe’s 77th minute try.
Team news: Rebels head coach Tony McGahan has recalled the experienced trio of Toby Smith, James Hanson and Laurie Weeks for the club’s return to AAMI Park. Smith will make his first start of the season after he returned from a hamstring injury with 30 minutes off the bench against the Kings last weekend. Hanson and Weeks have been named in the run-on team for the first time since the victory over the Brumbies in Round 8. McGahan has made a total of six changes to the starting line-up with the inclusion of lock Dominic Day, flanker Hugh Sinclair and scrum-half Ben Meehan. Rebels U20 vice-captain Harrison Goddard is set to make his Super Rugby debut at scrum-half.
Lions coach Johann Ackermann has made three changes. In the only change to the back-line, Ross Cronjé returns to start at scrum-half where he takes over from Springbok number nine Faf de Klerk who drops down to the replacements bench. The other changes are up front, with Lourens Ersamus preferred to Andries Ferreira in the second row while Cyle Brink comes into the run-on side on the flank where he replaces Ruan Ackermann. There are also some changes amongst the replacements. Akker van der Merwe and Hencus van Wyk come in as the back-up hooker and tighthead prop respectively while Ackermann and Robert Kruger will be the second row and loose forward cover.
Form: The Rebels are in a rut. They lost their opening five matches before an extremely narrow win over the Brumbies and a draw with the Sharks. Just when it looked they were putting together a run, they were bought crashing back down to earth with a 44-3 walloping at the hands of the Kings last weekend.
The Lions are in the best form they have experienced in Super Rugby history. The six in a row they have won since 18 March represents the longest winning streak in their Super Rugby history. They have won eight of their nine games this season, losing only to the Jaguares back in Round Three.
2015: Lions won 20-16 in Melbourne
2014: Lions won 34-17 in Johannesburg
2012: Lions won 37-32 in Johannesburg
Melbourne Rebels: 15 Reece Hodge, 14 Sefa Naivalu, 13 Tom English, 12 Mitch Inman, 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 Ben Volavola, 9 Ben Meehan, 8 Amanaki Mafi, 7 Colby Fainga’a (c), 6 Hugh Sinclair, 5 Dominic Day, 4 Steve Cummins, 3 Laurie Weeks, 2 James Hanson, 1 Toby Smith
Replacements: 16 Siliva Siliva, 17 Fereti Sa’aga, 18 Tyrel Lomax, 19 Culum Retallick, 20 Will Miller, 21 Harrison Goddard, 22 Jackson Garden-Bachop, 23 Jack Maddocks
Lions: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Sylvian Mahuza, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Harold Vorster, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Ross Cronjé, 8 Warren Whiteley (c), 7 Cyle Brink, 6 Kwagga Smith, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Lourens Erasmus, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Jacques van Rooyen
Replacements: 16 Akker van der Merwe, 17 Corne Fourie, 18 Hencus van Wyk, 19 Ruan Ackermann, 20 Robert Kruger, 21 Dillon Smit, 22 Jacques Nel, 23 Anthony Volmink
Date: Saturday, May 6
Venue: AAMI Park, Melbourne
Kick-off: 15:00 local (05:00 GMT)
Referee: Shuhei Kubo (Japan)
Assistant Referees: Ed Martin (Australia), James Leckie (Australia)
TMO: Ian Smith (Australia)