Full-back Reece Hodge has overcome injury to be selected in the Melbourne Rebels’ 23-man squad for Saturday’s game against Super Rugby’s defending champions, the Highlanders, at AAMI Park.
The 21-year-old proved his fitness on Thursday after being sidelined since suffering a quad injury at training on the eve of the Rebels second round meeting with the Bulls in Pretoria.
Hodge, who replaces Sione Tuipulotu on the reserves bench, and James Hanson’s return to the starting lineup at hooker for Pat Leafa are the only change to the 23-man that claimed a club record 26-point victory over the Sunwolves in Tokyo last weekend.
“We understand the quality of the Highlanders so we need to make sure we’re at our best so to have Nic (Stirzaker), Scott (Fuglistaller) and Reece (Hodge) all back fit will provides us with quality and experience to call upon off the bench during the game,” Rebels head coach Tony McGahan said.
Hodge scored the most points on debut by a Rebels player and equaled the club record for points in a match away from home when he scored two tries and 20 points against the Western Force in the opening round of the 2016 Super Rugby season.
Nic Stirzaker and Scott Fuglistaller successfully returned from injuries as second-half substitutions against the Sunwolves last weekend and will again provide an option off the bench for McGahan.
The Rebels squad features three former Highlanders with Fuglistaller, Adam Thomson and Tamati Ellison who all played under coach Jamie Joseph during their Super Rugby careers.
“The Highlanders have been impressive so far this season, they’ve continued to improve after last year’s championship and set a high benchmark in Super Rugby across all facets,” McGahan added.
Rebels: 15 Jonah Placid, 14 Dom Shipperley, 13 Tamati Ellison, 12 Mitch Inman, 11 Tom English, 10 Jack Debreczeni, 9 Ben Meehan, 8 Adam Thomson, 7 Sean McMahon (c), 6 Jordy Reid, 5 Lopeti Timpani, 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 Scott Fuglistaller, 21 Nic Stirzaker, 22 Dan Hawkins, 23 Reece Hodge
Date: Saturday, March 26
Venue: AAMI Park, Melbourne
Kick-off: 19:45 local (08:45 GMT)
Referee: Andrew Lees
Assistant Referees: Angus Gardner, Jordan Way
TMO: Peter Marshall