The return of Colby Fainga’a from injury headlines five new inclusions in the Rebels matchday squad for Friday’s meeting with the Cheetahs at AAMI Park, Melbourne.
Fainga’a will make his Super Rugby return from the reserves bench after an elbow injury had sidelined the flanker since the Rebels’ opening round victory over the Western Force in Perth eight weeks ago.
Head coach Tony McGahan has made four changes to the run-on side that lost to the Hurricanes last weekend with Toby Smith, returning from a concussion suffered against the Waratahs, and Jonah Placid named at full-back for the first time since the Highlanders in Round Five.
Reece Hodge will make his first start at outside centre after all four of his Super Rugby appearances have come at full-back while Sefa Nailavu, who got through his first full game since returning from a broken leg last year, and Cam Crawford swap wings.
Centre Sione Tuipulotu, last week named in the Australian U20’s squad, and Japanese international Kotaro Matsushima have been recalled to the team with the pair to start on the reserve bench against the Cheetahs.
Tuipulotu has been named in the team for the first time since he made his Super Rugby debut against the Reds in Round Three while Matsushima’s only appearance for the Rebels came in Round Two against the Bulls.
“With Dom Shipperley and Mitch Inman unavailable for selection due to injury, we’ve been forced to make a few changes this weekend against the Cheetahs, which isn’t great for continuity, but I’m looking forward to the young backs playing well,” McGahan said.
“Our depth has been tested a few times already this year with various injuries but those players coming in have always stepped up and taken the challenge head on so I’m expecting nothing less again this weekend.”
Rebels: 15 Jonah Placid, 14 Cam Crawford, 13 Reece Hodge, 12 Tamati Ellison, 11 Sefa Naivalu, 10 Jack Debreczeni, 9 Nic Stirzaker (c), 8 Adam Thomson, 7 Sean McMahon, 6 Jordy Reid, 5 Lopeti Timani, 4 Luke Jones, 3 Laurie Weeks, 2 James Hanson, 1 Toby Smith
Replacements: 16 Pat Leafa, 17 Cruze Ah Nau, 18 Jamie Hagan, 19 Sam Jeffries, 20 Colby Fainga’a, 21 Ben Meehan, 22 Kotaro Matsushima, 23 Sione Tuipulotu
Date: Friday, April 22
Venue: AAMI Park, Melbourne
Kick-off: 19:45 local (09:45 GMT)
Referee: Glen Jackson
Assistant Referees: James Leckie, Angus Gardner
TMO: George Ayoub