The Melbourne Rebels will be looking for their first ever win in South Africa when they take on the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.
Although the Rebels have played some scintillating rugby and on their day look capable of beating almost anyone, they have yet to be properly tested away from home.
Only two of their seven matches have been played away from home. The first was routine, a 37-17 victory over the Sunwolves. Their second away fixture, however, was a disaster.
Leading by ten at half-time, the Rebels ended up capitulating in the second half, only to be thumped 51-27 in the end.
If they don’t start well on Saturday, their minds could start thinking back to the last time they left the comfortable surroundings of AAMI Park. It is then they will need to show all of their character to avoid another embarrassment.
But head coach Dave Wessels said playing in South Africa was an exciting challenge for the squad.
“The Rebels have never won in South Africa, but to change that we’re going to have to play well against a very good Bulls team,” Wessels said.
“It’s exciting for guys like Michael (Ruru) and Harrison (Goddard); they have a great opportunity to impose themselves on the Super Rugby competition.
“The Bulls have played very well in the last few weeks and they’re obviously well-coached. We know that we’re going to have to be at our best.”
Credit to John Mitchell, who has shown no respect to the Bulls tradition of keeping it tight through the forwards. The Bulls are playing at a much higher tempo, spreading the ball wide and running at spaces.
However, the driving maul is a key weapon in the Bulls’ armoury so the Rebels will need to watch their discipline and not give away too many penalties.
Will Genia will be a huge miss for the Rebels. Genia has a competition-high eight try assists so far, averaging one every 55 minutes.
Meanwhile, the Bulls return to Loftus three weeks after that 33-23 victory over the Stormers and coach Mitchell is looking forward to being back in front of the home support.
“We are back again at Loftus Versfeld and playing in front of our home fans. We have another opportunity to show that we are a team that play till the very end and that is an exciting opportunity for this squad,” he said.
“We are gaining some momentum and are improving all the time. We are not the finished product yet though and hard work and commitment remains important for us.”
Bulls captain Burger Odendaal said the Rebels showed their class already this season and that he is expecting a tough game.
“We have seen them playing some really good rugby so far this season. They are a well-drilled unit and are getting better and better as the season progresses. We need to keep on improving as well, as we have set our standards very high and we are not where we want to be yet,” he said.
Team news: Bulls coach John Mitchell has had to tweak his loose trio combination due to an injury to Hanro Liebenberg, with Marco van Staden moving from the side to the back of the scrum and Roelof Smit starting in the number six jersey again in the only change to the starting team in Durban last weekend.
Smit, who started on the bench in that match, Van Staden and Thembelani Bholi will start together as a combination for the first time this season, although they did so for most of the match in Durban after Liebenberg left the field injured.
Mitchell included Shaun Adendorff on the bench. Adendorff will make a first appearance for the Bulls this year.
Meanwhile, a return from injury for centre Reece Hodge headlines three changes to the starting XV for the Melbourne Rebels in Pretoria.
Hodge joins lock Matt Philip, back-row Angus Cottrell and scrum-half Michael Ruru as the inclusions in the starting line-up. Ruru will make his first ever Rebels start, after Will Genia suffered a hamstring injury in the loss to Jaguares in the last round.
Billy Meakes and Geoff Parling will start on the bench, making way for Hodge and Phillip respectively. Ruru’s elevation to the starting line-up means a potential season debut for young scrum-half, Harrison Goddard.
Cottrell returns to the starting line-up since re-committing to the Melbourne Rebels, while Richard Hardwick shook off any concussion concerns from the Jaguares match and will start on the bench.
Fereti Sa’aga also returns for his first match after missing matches against the Hurricanes and Jaguares, replacing the injured Ben Daley (shoulder).
Fly-half Jack Debreczeni will celebrate a special personal milestone, reaching 50 Melbourne Rebels and Super Rugby caps this Saturday.
2016: Bulls won 45-25 in Pretoria
2015: Rebels won 21-20 in Melbourne
2014: Bulls won 40-07 in Pretoria
2012: Bulls won 41-35 in Melbourne
2011: Bulls won 47-10 in Pretoria
Bulls: 15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Johnny Kotze, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Burger Odendaal (c), 11 Divan Rossouw, 10 Handre Pollard, 9 Ivan van Zyl, 8 Marco van Staden, 7 Thembelani Bholi, 6 Roelof Smit, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 RG Snyman, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Pierre Schoeman
Replacements: 16 Jaco Visagie, 17 Lizo Gqoboka, 18 Frans van Wyk, 19 Jason Jenkins, 20 Shaun Adendorff, 21 Andre Warner, 22 Manie Libbok, 23 Duncan Matthews
Rebels: 15 Dane Haylett-Petty, 14 Jack Maddocks, 13 Tom English, 12 Reece Hodge, 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 Jack Debreczeni, 9 Michael Ruru, 8 Amanaki Mafi, 7 Angus Cottrell, 6 Ross Haylett-Petty, 5 Adam Coleman (c), 4 Matt Philip, 3 Sam Talakai, 2 Anaru Rangi, 1 Tetera Faulkner
Replacements: 16 Jordan Uelese, 17 Fereti Sa’aga, 18 Jermaine Ainsley, 19 Geoff Parling, 20 Richard Hardwick, 21 Harrison Goddard, 22 Billy Meakes, 23 Sefa Naivalu
Date: Saturday, April 21
Venue: Loftus Versfeld
Kick-off: 15:05 local (13:05 GMT)
Referee: Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Rasta Rasivhenge, AJ Jacobs
Television match official: Willie Vos