It’s win or bust for the Rebels when they take on the Reds as both sides look to gain ground on the Brumbies in the Australian Conference.
They’ll know long before kick-off whether the men from Canberra have left the door ajar to close in on top spot and judging on recent form it seems likely the Brumbies will lose to the Lions. That would be an ideal sight for these two sides facing off in Melbourne on Saturday.
After what has been a lop-sided Australasian Group in terms of quality, it is staggering that the Rebels and Reds are still in the running to finish in fourth spot overall. But such is the format that play-off rugby is up for grabs for an outfit that has won just once in 2017.
That one win for the Rebels came in mid April while the Reds’ last win came on the same day as both have struggled, especially defensively.
What may give the Rebels hope of turning around their campaign at AAMI Park on Saturday is that they’ve won four of their last six clashes with the Reds, including each of their last two, after having never defeated them in their first six Super Rugby games, from 2011 to 2013.
It promises to be a close-fought game as each of the Rebels’ last eight games at home against Australian opposition have been decided by a margin of eight points or fewer, with four wins going to the Rebels in that span. Also, the last two meetings between these two ended 25-23 and 31-28.
However, how the Rebels have gone down with not so much of a whimper in their last two games is a concern for their supporters, not least with the off-field threat of a Super Rugby axe hanging over them. Derbies though have a habit of stirring emotions so we expect an improved showing.
Renewed hunger might not be enough for the Rebels though as the Reds boast enough quality to get their third win of the campaign this weekend which, if the Brumbies do lose, would see them close to within touching distance of the Australian summit before they enjoy a welcome bye round.
The last time the teams met: It was a thrilling game in Brisbane in the final round of last season as the Rebels held on to win 31-28 on the road. Sean McMahon was their stand-out player with two tries while Tom English and Nic Stirzaker also crossed. The Reds’ scorers were Nick Frisby, Liam Gill (2) and Samu Kerevi, with Gill’s final game before leaving for Toulon ending in a disappointing loss.
Team news: The Rebels will welcome back Sean McMahon and Colby Fainga’a for Saturday’s Australian derby. Rebels head coach Tony McGahan has named a settled line-up for the Round 12 clash with only one change to the starting XV with the return of stand-in captain Fainga’a after a week on the sideline. The Rebels have named an unchanged backline for the third week with Mitch Inman and Tom English to combine at centre.
The Reds have made a number of changes, with Karmichael Hunt’s return from injury prompting a shuffle in the backs. Hunt will resume his regular role as starting full-back, with Duncan Paia’aua shifting back to inside centre and captain Samu Kerevi to outside centre. Scrum-half Nick Frisby also returns to the starting side in place of James Tuttle, with Moses Sorovi brought into the 23 as reserve scrum-half. The only other change to the XV sees Campbell Magnay earn a start on the wing ahead of Izaia Perese, who has moved to the reserves. Loose forward Adam Korczyk has also been brought back into the matchday 23 for the first time in three weeks, taking the place of Leroy Houston.
Form: It’s fair to say the wheels appear to have come off at the Rebels during recent outings. Still they remain on just one win in 2017, but it’s their two recent performances against the Kings and Lions that have caused most concern, going down 44-3 and 47-10 respectively.
Things aren’t much better for the Reds as despite winning one more game than their hosts, it’s been a hugely disappointing campaign thus far. Beating the Kings in a high-scoring affair has been followed by losses to the Waratahs and Chiefs but they somehow remain only seven points off making the knockout stage, with Australia’s leading team the Brumbies’ recent poor form leaving the door open to their rivals.
2016: Rebels won 31-28 in Brisbane
2016: Rebels won 25-23 in Melbourne
2015: Reds won 29-46 in Brisbane
2015: Rebels won 23-15 in Melbourne
2014: Reds won 20-36 in Melbourne
2014: Rebels won 30-27 in Brisbane
2013: Reds 20-33 in Brisbane
2013: Reds won 13-23 in 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 Sean McMahon, 21 Harrison Goddard, 22 Will Miller, 23 Jack Maddocks
Reds: 15 Karmichael Hunt, 14 Campbell Magnay, 13 Samu Kerevi (c), 12 Duncan Paia’aua, 11 Eto Nabuli, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Nick Frisby, 8 Scott Higginbotham, 7 George Smith, 6 Hendrik Tui, 5 Lukhan Tui, 4 Rob Simmons, 3 Sam Talakai, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Sef Fa’agase
Replacements: 16 Alex Mafi, 17 Kirwan Sanday, 18 Taniela Tupou, 19 Izack Rodda, 20 Adam Korczyk, 21 Moses Sorovi, 22 Hamish Stewart, 23 Izaia Perese
Date: Saturday, May 13
Venue: AAMI Park, Melbourne
Kick-off: 19:45 local (09:45 GMT)
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen
Assistant Referees: Shuhei Kubo, Ed Martin
TMO: Damien Mitchelmore