Both the Melbourne Rebels and Sharks will be desperate to get back to winning ways when they meet at AAMI Park on Friday.
The Rebels suffered their first defeat of the season in their last Super Rugby fixture, a 51-27 loss to the Waratahs in Sydney. This, despite leading 20-10 at half-time.
Having already set a new record for successive wins this season, the Rebels looked on course to add to their previous wins over the Reds, Sunwolves and Brumbies. But a second-half blitz from the Waratahs, in which they scored 41 points, brought an abrupt end to that winning streak.
Meanwhile, after their 50-27 drubbing of the Sunwolves (their only win of the season thus far), the Sharks were brought crashing back down to earth with a 24-17 defeat to the Brumbies in Canberra last weekend.
Their other games include a 26-19 opening-day defeat to the Lions and a 24-24 draw with a less cohesive Waratahs outfit than the one that demolished the Rebels.
Of the five games played between the sides, the Sharks have won four while there has been one draw. The Sharks have won on each of their previous two visits to Melbourne to face the Rebels, those wins both coming by fewer than seven points though.
However, will Sharks coach Robert du Preez’s decision to rest flying winger Makazole Mapimpi come back to haunt him? Mapimpi has made an excellent start to his Sharks career, scoring in each of his three matches so far.
The Rebels, meanwhile, have opted to drop Tom English, shift Jack Maddocks to full-back with Marika Koroibete ready for his first start of the season on the wing.
And Rebels coach Dave Wessels says he is focusing on his own side’s performance and not on the teams around them.
“We’ve played some really good rugby this year and I think we’re happy with where the team is at,” Wessels said.
“Our job is to go out there and focus on our equivalent of running a 9.9 sec 100m race. If a team comes along and runs a 9.8 sec then they deserve to win. But our focus is on producing our best performance consistently.
“We didn’t do that on Sunday, but Friday gives us the opportunity to put that right.”
Team news: Dave Wessels has named lock Geoff Parling, flanker Colby Fainga’a and centre Billy Meakes for their first starts of the 2018 Super Rugby season.
Dane Haylett-Petty and Ben Daley were unavailable for selection after the pair failed to meet the minimum return to play concussion protocols due to the short five-day turnaround following the loss to the Waratahs in Sydney on Sunday.
The injuries have forced a shuffle to the backline with the Fijian flyers Sefa Naivalu and Marika Koroibete to occupy the wings in tandem for the first time this season while Jack Maddocks has been shifted to full-back.
Meakes will start at inside centre, alongside Reece Hodge, after he impressed in his early introduction off the bench on Sunday after Haylett-Petty suffered a head knock in the opening 15 minutes against the Waratahs.
Parling will make his first start in his second appearance for the Rebels after a concussion in his Super Rugby debut in the victory over the Sunwolves sidelined the former England international lock since Round Three.
After he missed Sunday’s game against the Waratahs with illness, Angus Cottrell will return to the starting line-up along with Fainga’a.
A hamstring injury to Jordan Uelese will again sideline the young hooker with Anaru Rangi to start and Mahe Vailanu, who made his Super Rugby debut last week, gets his second opportunity off the bench on Friday.
Meanwhile, Sharks head coach Robert du Preez has made four alterations to his run-on side and has also tinkered with his replacements bench after last weekend’s defeat to the Brumbies in Canberra.
Most of the changes are in the backline with Sbu Nkosi and Lwazi Mvovo taking over from Kobus van Dyk and Makazole Mapimpi on the wings while Marius Louw replaces the injured Andre Esterhuizen at inside centre.
Amongst the forwards, Jean-Luc du Preez returns on the blindside flank in place of Jacques Vermeulen, who switches to the other side of the scrum where he takes over from Wian Vosloo.
2017: The sides drew 09-09 in Durban
2015: Sharks won 25-21 in Durban
2014: Sharks won 22-16 in Melbourne
2013: Sharks won 64-07 in Durban
2011: Sharks won 34-32 in Melbourne
Melbourne Rebels: 15 Jack Maddocks, 14 Sefa Naivalu, 13 Reece Hodge, 12 Billy Meakes, 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 Jack Debreczeni, 9 Will Genia, 8 Amanaki Mafi, 7 Colby Fainga’a, 6 Angus Cottrell, 5 Adam Coleman (c), 4 Geoff Parling, 3 Jermaine Ainsley, 2 Anaru Rangi, 1 Tetera Faulkner
Replacements: 16 Mahe Vailanu, 17 Fereti Sa’aga, 18 Sam Talakai, 19 Matt Philip, 20 Ross Haylett-Petty, 21 Richard Hardwick, 22 Michael Ruru, 23 Tom English
Sharks: 15 Curwin Bosch, 14 Sbu Nkosi, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Marius Louw, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Robert du Preez, 9 Louis Schreuder, 8 Tera Mtembu, 7 Jean-Luc du Preez, 6 Jacques Vermeulen, 5 Stephan Lewies, 4 Ruan Botha (c), 3 Thomas du Toit, 2 Akker van der Merwe, 1 Beast Mtawarira
Replacements: 16 Franco Marais, 17 Juan Schoeman, 18 John-Hubert Meyer, 19 Hyron Andrews, 20 Wian Vosloo, 21 Cameron Wright, 22 Kobus van Wyk, 23 Garth April
Date: Friday, March 23
Venue: AAMI Park, Melbourne
Kick-off: 19:45 local (08:45 GMT)
Referee: Shuhei Kubo (Japan)
Assistant referees: Nic Berry (Australia), Damon Murphy (Australia)
TMO: Ian Smith (Australia)