For the first time in Super Rugby history, the Rebels have named two Japanese players in their squad to face the Waratahs in Sydney.
For the first time in Super Rugby history, the Rebels have named two Japanese players in their matchday squad for Friday's clash with the Waratahs in Sydney.
Centre Male Sau joins compatriot Shota Horie on the Rebels' bench while head coach Tony McGahan has made two changes to the starting line-up following last Friday's 25-19 defeat against the Crusaders in Perth.
Jason Woodward (knee) and Laurie Weeks (concussion) are the casualties, presenting starting opportunities to Angus Roberts (full-back) and Paul Alo-Emile (tighthead prop).
Tom Kingston also returns to the matchday 23, replacing Telusa Veainu on the bench, while prop Cruze Ah-Nau is in contention to make his Super Rugby debut after being selected as a reserve.
Lachlan Mitchell will become the first Rebel to play 50 competitive matches for the club, a combination of 49 Super Rugby appearances and his match against the British and Irish Lions, while Mitch Inman will make his 50th Super Rugby appearance following nineteen appearances for the Western Force before moving to Melbourne.
While Woodward and Weeks miss this week, McGahan dispelled any doubts about their long-term fitness, and expects them to be back in contention shortly.
“Laurie will follow the concussion protocols and have a week off, while Jason has one of those things that isn't serious but could keep him out for a week or two,” said McGahan.
“We need to make sure we look after him and with a Friday turnaround this week he's run a little short. We don't have a clear diagnosis, so we'll have to wait and see a little how his knee recovers.”
In 2013, Horie made history as the first Japanese player to play for an Australian Super Rugby team, and there is a strong chance of Sau joining him in that exclusive club this Friday.
“Male has been with us a few weeks now. Injury curtailed his start at the club, but he has slowly been gaining time on the training pitch and increased confidence and knowledge. He is very keen to get some game time this weekend and show what he can do,” added McGahan.
“We hadn't thought about the fact that we might make history by playing two Japanese players when we picked the side, but it's potentially a great achievement. It's a global game, and to have two international Japanese players in the same side here in Melbourne is certainly exciting for the Super Rugby competition and Rebels fans.”
Roberts makes his second start of the season at full-back, with Kingston also able to cover the fifteen jersey from the bench.
“Angus is very keen to come back in; he had a start against the Western Force a couple of weeks ago and he'll be looking to make the most of this opportunity,” McGahan said.
“It will be good to see him and Bryce Hegarty, two young guys from a Super Rugby experience perspective, combining. They are two keen players, who are pushing each other around the field, and they are keen to make their mark and help each other with direction and what we are trying to implement from attack.
“Tom Kingston has good versatility to cover the wing and fullback positions. He has worked hard at training in the last few weeks, and has been impressing with his work ethic and what he has been delivering; he's earned his spot in the matchday 23.”
For Ah-Nau, who made his debut for the club against the British and Irish Lions but is yet to be tested in the world's toughest provincial club competition, the opportunity is a reflection of his hard work.
“Cruze has worked very hard behind the scenes and is ready if called upon. He's had a really good pre-season; he only had twenty minutes in the trials as the other four lads did really well. It's a great opportunity for him and as we have spoken about previously depth is such a huge part of this competition. Being able to rely upon different members of the squad to come in at different points in time is important, and they have to be ready; we think Cruze is,” said McGahan.
“Our whole forward pack faces a great battle this week against a seasoned international pack at the Waratahs, and there are internationals on the bench there as well. It's certainly a great opportunity for our forwards individually, and especially in the front row.”
Rebels: 15 Angus Roberts, 14 Lachlan Mitchell, 13 Tamati Ellison, 12 Mitch Inman, 11 Tom English, 10 Bryce Hegarty, 9 Luke Burgess, 8 Scott Higginbotham (c), 7 Scott Fuglistaller, 6 Sean McMahon, 5 Luke Jones, 4 Hugh Pyle, 3 Paul Alo-Emile, 2 Pat Leafa, 1 Toby Smith.
Replacements: 16 Shota Horie, 17 Max Lahiff, 18 Cruze Ah-Nau, 19 Cadeyrn Neville, 20 Colby Fainga'a, 21 Ben Meehan, 22 Male Sa'u, 23 Tom Kingston.
Date: Friday, March 21
Venue: Allianz Stadium, Sydney
Kick-off: 19.40 local (08.40 GMT)
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Rohan Hoffmann (Australia), Graham Cooper (Australia)
Television match official: George Ayoub (Australia)