It’s second hosting first in the Australian Conference on Friday as the Rebels and Waratahs face off in a crucial derby game in Melbourne.
Currently just one point ahead of their hosts with three matches remaining, the Waratahs will be desperate to keep their noses in front in order to secure themselves a home Qualifier. Likewise the Rebels know this is a massive opportunity to usurp the ‘Tahs in that vital race.
The ‘Tahs come into this fixture without their talismanic skipper and openside flanker Michael Hooper who, for once, misses out due to an injury. How that impacts on their form will be an intriguing watch at AAMI Park but what will give the Sydney side heart in his absence is the fact they have won 12 of their previous 14 games against the Rebels, posting 50 plus points in each of their last two derby showdowns.
However, they face a Rebels side that was in good form before the June internationals, winning three games back-to-back. Victory for them in this match would mark their fourth on the spin, setting a new record for the club in Super Rugby for most consecutive triumphs.
Several Wallabies return in both camps which is good news for the game as a spectacle as the likes of Dane Haylett-Petty, Marika Koroibete and Reece Hodge take on Israel Folau, Kurtley Beale, Bernard Foley and Nick Phipps in the backline. That should provide plenty of points.
Indeed Beale is both vital in attack and defence, with his work at the breakdown hugely impressive this season. If he can combine that – crucial in the absence of Hooper – by adding to his side’s tournament high metres made, then the result should be positive for the ‘Tahs.
Team news: The Rebels have made two changes to the starting XV that beat the Blues at the beginning of June, as they prepare to restart their season at AAMI Park.
Ben Daley makes his first start for the campaign in the front-row and is joined by Sam Talakai, while Geoff Parling steps into the second-row to cover for injured Rebels captain, Adam Coleman (adductor).
Michael Ruru retains the scrum-half jersey with Will Genia (arm) on the sidelines.
On the bench, hooker Nathan Charles returns to the playing 23 following Jordan Uelese’s season-ending knee injury. Jack Debreczeni also makes his first Super Rugby appearance since the win over the Brumbies in Canberra. The team includes 11 Test players.
Meanwhile, fly-half Bernard Foley will captain the Waratahs on Friday, taking over the captaincy from the injured Michael Hooper.
Foley will lead a side that shows two changes to the starting line-up that took to the field against the Reds in Brisbane at the end of May before the Super Rugby competition took a break for the June internationals.
Ned Hanigan returns from injury and will start at blindside flanker with Will Miller replacing Hooper at seven.
On the bench, tighthead prop Paddy Ryan replaces Shambeckler Vui and Alex Newsome comes in for Lalakai Foketi, who is recovering from a lower leg injury that surfaced in the tour match against Japanese Top League side the NEC Green Rockets two weeks ago.
2018: Waratahs won 51-27 in Sydney
2017: Waratahs won 50-23 in Sydney
2017: Waratahs won 32-25 in Melbourne
2016: Rebels won 21-17 in Sydney
2015: Waratahs won 18-16 in Sydney
2015: Waratahs won 38-28 in Melbourne
2014: Waratahs won 41-19 in Melbourne
2014: Waratahs won 32-8 in Sydney
Rebels: 15 Dane Haylett-Petty, 14 Jack Maddocks, 13 Tom English (c), 12 Billy Meakes, 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 Reece Hodge, 9 Michael Ruru, 8 Amanaki Mafi, 7 Colby Fainga’a, 6 Angus Cottrell, 5 Geoff Parling, 4 Matt Philip, 3 Sam Talakai, 2 Anaru Rangi, 1 Ben Daley
Replacements: 16 Nathan Charles, 17 Fereti Sa’aga, 18 Jermaine Ainsley, 19 Ross Haylett-Petty, 20 Lopeti Timani, 21 Harrison Goddard, 22 Jack Debreczeni, 23 Sefa Naivalu
Waratahs: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Cam Clark, 13 Curtis Rona, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Taqele Naiyaravoro, 10 Bernard Foley (c), 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Michael Wells, 7 Will Miller, 6 Ned Hanigan, 5 Rob Simmons, 4 Jed Holloway, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Damien Fitzpatrick, 1 Tom Robertson
Replacements: 16 Tolu Latu, 17 Harry Johnson-Holmes, 18 Paddy Ryan, 19 Tom Staniforth, 20 Brad Wilkin, 21 Jake Gordon, 22 Bryce Hegarty, 23 Alex Newsome
Date: Friday, June 29
Venue: AAMI Park, Melbourne
Kick-off: 19:45 local (10:45 BST, 09:45 GMT)
Referee: Nic Berry
Assistant Referees: Graham Cooper, Jordan Way
TMO: Damien Mitchelmore