The Rebels have enjoyed an improved campaign but they have yet to defeat a New Zealand side and the Blues is another challenging obstacle they will have to overcome.
Dave Wessels’ men have been impressive at times, producing excellent results against the Sharks, Brumbies and Reds but, against those from across the Tasman Sea, it has been a different story. The Crusaders and Hurricanes have both visited Melbourne and gone away with comfortable victories, after dominating the second half.
This time, the Australian franchise will have to play away from home, heading to Auckland knowing that they have been outplayed by the Blues’ countrymen in 2018. On a more positive note for Wessels’ charges, the Eden Park-based outfit have once again been abysmal and are rooted to the foot of their conference.
Tana Umaga’s team have regressed this year and duly failed to build on the previous campaign, where they finished in ninth and would have qualified for the play-offs had they been able to defeat a couple of their intra-country rivals.
The Blues have suffered a few injuries but it is no excuse for a team that contains the talent of the Ioane brothers, Jerome Kaino and Sonny Bill Williams. While the talismanic centre was out until early May, Williams’ return has not coincided with a reversal in fortunes and confidence has continued to decrease.
On paper, they should have too much for the Rebels, even without the rested Rieko Ioane, but, with little to play for, the visitors will fancy their chances of overcoming Umaga’s charges.
They are well coached, well drilled and have the talent to cause the hosts problems, with Marika Koroibete, Jack Maddocks and Dane Haylett-Petty forming a potent back three, but the question centres around the half-backs.
Will Genia has been a big miss while Reece Hodge is inexperienced in the pivot position but, should he and replacement half-back Michael Ruru combine well, then it will set them up nicely; a victory at Eden Park will give the Rebels an excellent opportunity to claim top spot in the Australian Conference.
Team news: The Blues welcome back loosehead Alex Hodgman to their starting line-up for Saturday’s Super Rugby clash. The prop is back after a wrist injury which has sidelined him for nine games.
The other change in the pack sees Northland captain and hooker Matt Moulds make his first start for the season, with the durable James Parsons not recovered from the head injury he received last week, which has led to a two-week suspension to Crusaders prop Owen Franks.
There is a second start for Counties Manukau lock Matiaha Martin after impressing on debut as a late replacement for the Blues’ injury-hit locking stocks.
The Blues welcome their All Blacks Ofa Tuungafasi and Sonny Bill Williams back while Rieko Ioane takes his enforced break this week, to allow try-scoring winger Tumua Manu his fourth game for the club on the left wing. Williams is bracketed with Bay of Plenty midfielder Terrence Hepetema after receiving a knock at the All Blacks camp this week.
Michael Collins, who returned from a four-game injury break as a replacement last week, comes back into the starting line-up with an in-form Matt Duffie back to his accustomed spot on the right wing.
Meanwhile, Rebels head coach Dave Wessels has made one change to his starting line-up.
Tighthead prop Jermaine Ainsley returns after missing the Rebels’ win over the Sunwolves which means Sam Talakai shifts to the reserves.
Amongst the replacements, Ross Haylett-Petty returns for his first match at Super Rugby level since suffering concussion during the match against the Bulls in Pretoria and will start on the bench.
Winger Sefa Naivalu – who was included in the Wallabies squad for next month’s three-Test series against Ireland – and last week’s debutant, Pone Fa’amausili, have both been omitted from this week’s team.
Wessels said: “It’s great to have Ross (Haylett-Petty) coming back in. He trained really well this week and effectively forced us to pick him. He gives us flexibility in the back five and is obviously fit and powerful. We look forward to seeing his impact.”
2017: Blues won 56-18 in Melbourne
2016: Blues won 36-30 in Auckland
2015: Rebels won 42-22 in Melbourne
2013: Blues won 36-32 in Auckland
2012: Rebels won 34-23 in Melbourne
2011: Blues won 40-23 in Auckland
Blues: 15 Michael Collins, 14 Matt Duffie, 13 Orbyn Leger, 12 Sonny Bill Williams/Terrence Hepetema, 11 Tumua Manu, 10 Stephen Perofeta, 9 Augustine Pulu (c), 8 Akira Ioane, 7 Dalton Papalii, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Matiaha Martin, 4 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 3 Ofa Tuungafasi, 2 Matt Moulds, 1 Alex Hodgman
Replacements: 16 Leni Apisai, 17 Pauliasi Manu, 18 Sione Mafileo, 19 Ben Nee-Nee, 20 Sione Havili, 21 Jonathan Ruru, 22 Bryn Gatland, 23 TJ Faiane/Terrence Hepetema
Rebels: 15 Dane Haylett-Petty, 14 Jack Maddocks, 13 Tom English, 12 Billy Meakes, 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 Reece Hodge, 9 Michael Ruru, 8 Amanaki Mafi, 7 Colby Fainga’a, 6 Angus Cottrell, 5 Adam Coleman (c), 4 Matt Philip, 3 Jermaine Ainsley, 2 Anaru Rangi, 1 Fereti Sa’aga
Replacements: 16 Jordan Uelese, 17 Ben Daley, 18 Sam Talakai, 19 Geoff Parling, 20 Ross Haylett-Petty, 21 Harrison Goddard, 22 Tayler Adams, 23 Lopeti Timani
Date: Saturday, June 2
Venue: Eden Park, Auckland
Kick-off: 17:15 local (05:15 GMT)
Referee: Nick Briant (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Brendon Pickerill (New Zealand), Angus Mabey (New Zealand)
TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)