Preview: Rebels v Blues

Date published: May 7 2015

If history is anything to go by, spectators are set for a high-scoring Super Rugby game between the Rebels and Blues in Melbourne on Friday.

A remarkable 63, 57 and 68 points have been scored in their three previous clashes so we should expect plenty of tries and drama throughout.

Both enter on the back of respective victories too, with the Rebels having edged out the Chiefs while the Blues got the better of the Force, which will hopefully see them play with plenty of confidence with ball in hand. Personnel should also help with that trend as we'll explain.

Players such as Scott Higginbotham, Akira Ioane, Nic Stirzaker and Ihaia West thrive off fast-paced contests and coupled with the quality in the Blues backline and back- ow, there is every chance Melbourne will be treated to plenty of line breaks from these two play-off outsiders.

Of course the Rebels have the best chance out of these two of sneaking into the knockout mix due to the fact they have a game in hand to go with an eight-point buffer over the thirteenth placed Aucklanders. Therefore, a victory would put the pressure on the Crusaders, Lions and Stormers above them.

As has been the case over recent seasons, the Blues at home are very different to the side that travels outside of Eden Park so the Rebels enter as favourites as they look to back up that Chiefs scalp. And because of that, it's hard to argue against the hosts claiming the spoils.  

The last time these teams met: These two sides last clashed in 2013 when the Blues ran out 36-32 winners in Auckland. Try-scorers on that day for the hosts were Frank Halai, Francis Saili and Rene Ranger with Chris Noakes and Baden Kerr doing further damage off the tee. Their kicks proved key as the Rebels outscored them on the try front, with Mitch Inman, Scott Higginbotham, Lachlan Mitchell and Jason Woodward crossing.

Players to watch: The two Rebels locks have impressed this season with their workrate and qualities in the loose so keep an eye on Luke Jones and Lopeti Timani once again this week. Meanwhile, the Blues must be wary of Jack Debreczeni's long-range penalties.

For the Blues it has to be Akira Ioane and Ihaia West, as both need big games if the visitors are to end their away day blues. The pair are deadly in an attacking sense while all eyes will be on new captain Steven Luatua, who would be wise to lean on Keven Mealamu's wealth of experience.

Team news: Rebels head coach Tony McGahan has named Tom English, Colby Fainga'a and Mike Harris in his XV, who replace Tamati Ellison (rest) and Sean McMahon (hip) and Bryce Hegarty, with Dom Shipperley moving to outside centre. Flank Scott Fuglistaller returns to the matchday 23.

Fainga'a replaces Sean McMahon, who after a bang on his hip and a heavy schedule this year gets a rest, while Tamati Ellison will miss this week due to general soreness. Harris resumes his starting spot at full-back, after being a late withdrawal last week with a corked thigh.

Meanwhile, Ihaia West will start at fly-half in a much-changed Blues XV. He replaces Dan Bowden, who has been sidelined for up to two weeks with a groin injury. Steven Luatua will skipper the team from number eight as he comes in as a direct replacement for Jerome Kaino, who is out for the rest of the season. Lolagi Visinia returns to full-back in place of the injured Charles Piutau, while Tevita Li is promoted from the bench to start on the wing. Charlie Faumuina and James Parsons are rested, meaning Angus Ta'avao and Keven Mealamu complete the line-up.

Form: The Rebels will enter this game full of confidence after overcoming their Chiefs, which was their third win in the last four fixtures. They have a game in hand over their rivals looking to sneak into the play-offs and like them, they know that any losses right now could well cost them a knockout spot. This fixture against the Blues precedes a derby at the Reds before they head out on a tough tour to South Africa.

The Blues have found some hope in recent outings as they have won two of their last four games, the latest being last week against the Force when they prevailed 41-24. They still harbour aspirations of finishing in the top ten, with a win at the Rebels a must if that is to happen.

Prediction: Missing Tamati Ellison at centre is a blow but with home advantage – to go with the Blues' poor form on the road – the Australian side should come out on top here. Expect a close one though as the Rebels seldom run away with wins. Rebels by 7!

Previous results:

2013: Blues won 36-32 in Auckland
2012: Rebels won 34-23 in Melbourne
2011: Blues won 40-23 in North Harbour

The teams:

Rebels: 15 Mike Harris, 14 Tom English, 13 Dom Shipperley, 12 Mitch Inman, 11 Sefanaia Naivalu, 10 Jack Debreczeni, 9 Nic Stirzaker, 8 Scott Higginbotham, 7 Jordy Reid, 6 Colby Fainga’a, 5 Lopeti Timani, 4 Luke Jones, 3 Paul Alo-Emile, 2 Pat Leafa, 1 Toby Smith.
Replacements: 16 Tom Sexton, 17 Cruze Ah-Nau, 18 Tim Metcher, 19 Cadeyrn Neville, 20 Scott Fuglistaller, 21 Luke Burgess, 22 Bryce Hegarty, 23 Telusa Veainu.

Blues: 15 Lolagi Visinia, 14 Melani Nanai, 13 Francis Saili, 12 George Moala, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Ihaia West, 9 Jimmy Cowan, 8 Steven Luatua (c), 7 Brendon O'Connor, 6 Akira Ioane, 5 Hayden Triggs, 4 Culum Retallick, 3 Angus Ta'avao, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Greg Pleasants-Tate, 17 Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 18 Sam Prattley, 19 Josh Bekhuis, 20 Joe Edwards, 21 Jamison Gibson-Park, 22 Simon Hickey 23 Hamish Northcott.

Date: Friday, 8 May
Venue: AAMI Park, Melbourne
Kick-off: 19:40 local (09:40 GMT, 21:40 NZST, 11:40 SAST)
Referee: Angus Gardner
Assistant referees: James Leckie, Graham Cooper
TMO: Ian Smith