Australia’s worst side face Australia’s best on Saturday when the Rebels take on the Brumbies in Melbourne on Saturday.
The Rebels appear safe off the field, in large part due to their financial backing, but back on the field this has been a miserable campaign thus far, with just one table point to their name after five losses from five matches so far.
Last time out in Dunedin against the Highlanders, a much-weakened Highlanders outfit we should add due to injury, they were comfortably dispatched in a performance where morale was at an obvious low.
Finding signs for positivity therefore against a confident Brumbies side, fresh off their best outing of the year against the Reds when they finished with 43 points, is no easy task.
The Brumbies have won each of their last five road games within Australia, their longest ever winning streak in such fixtures, and welcoming back Sam Carter and Jarrad Butler in the pack adds more grit to a set of forwards who caused the Reds plenty of problems with their rolling maul.
Not only is the Brumbies’ attack beginning to kick into gear but their defence also remains resolute. The Brumbies have conceded just 5.7 clean breaks per game this campaign, fewer than any other team.
Match that with the fact that the Rebels have scored eight tries all year, comfortably the least by any team and seven adrift from the rest of the pack, and the outcome here seems obvious.
The last time these teams met: The Brumbies outscored the Rebels by five tries to three in a 30-22 win in Melbourne, as the Brumbies extended their lead at the top of the Australian Conference in the process. David Pocock, Rory Arnold, Christian Leali’ifano, Scott Fardy and Nigel Ah Wong all crossed for the visitors with Cam Crawford, Reece Hodge and Sefa Naivalu supplying the tries for the Rebels, who missed out on a losing bonus point.
Players to watch: A welcome return out on the wing, Sefa Naivalu is back from injury and if anyone can get the Rebels’ attack out of its current slump, then the Wallaby winger would seem like the prime candidate. Much was made in pre-season of his partnership with Marika Koroibete, but we are yet to see the goods. Should the game open up then Naivalu can certainly make a strong impact.
Meanwhile for the Brumbies the decision by Stephen Larkham to opt for a six-two split on the bench indicates that the Brumbies are up for a physical scrap, which seems ready-made for Chris Alcock. The ex-Force openside was on form last weekend against the Reds, having his best game since his move, and his work over at the breakdown and in defence often flies under the radar.
Team news: Rebels head coach Tony McGahan has made three changes. McGahan welcomes back Sefa Naivalu from injury while the forwards have been bolstered by international experience with the return of Lopeti Timani to the starting line-up and Dom Day named for his run-on debut. McGahan has reshuffled the team’s back-line with Nic Stirzaker and Jack Debreczeni to resume their partnership in the halves for the first time season while utility Reece Hodge will fill the vacancy at fullback, Tom English returns to the centres with Mitch Inman.
The Brumbies have made three changes. Sam Carter returns to skipper the side against the Rebels, renewing his second row partnership with Wallabies international team-mate Rory Arnold, whilst there are starts for centre Andrew Smith and number eight Jarrad Butler in place of the injured Kyle Godwin and Jordan Smiler. Head coach Stephen Larkham reverts to a 6-2 split on the bench which sees Jordan Jackson-Hope named as cover for the backs alongside a possible first Brumbies cap for former Australian Sevens star and ACT local Tom Cusack.
Form: The Brumbies have won eight of their last 10 games against the Rebels, including an eight-point win when they last met in Round 12 last season. The Rebels have conceded 111 points combined in the second stanzas of their last four games on home turf, losing on each occasion. The Rebels have been defeated by the Blues, Hurricanes, Chiefs, Waratahs and Highlanders so far. The Brumbies have won three of their six matches, taking down the Force, Waratahs and Reds.
Prediction: Keep up their intensity from last week and the Brumbies will have no issues in Melbourne. Brumbies by 12.
2016: Brumbies won 30-22 in Melbourne
2015: Rebels won 13-8 in Canberra
2015: Brumbies won 20-15 in Melbourne
2014: Brumbies won 37-10 in Canberra
2014: Rebels won 32-24 in Melbourne
2013: Brumbies won 39-17 in Canberra
2013: Brumbies won 30-13 in Melbourne
2012: Brumbies won 27-19 in Melbourne
Melbourne Rebels: 15 Reece Hodge, 14 Sefa Naivalu, 13 Tom English, 12 Mitch Inman, 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 Jack Debreczeni, 9 Nic Stirzaker (c), 8 Amanaki Mafi, 7 Colby Fainga’a, 6 Lopeti Timani, 5 Dominic Day, 4 Steve Cummins, 3 Laurie Weeks, 2 James Hanson, 1 Fereti Sa’aga
Replacements: 16 Siliva Siliva, 17 Tom Moloney, 18 Tyrel Lomax, 19 Culum Retallick, 20 Hugh Sinclair, 21 Mick Snowden, 22 Jackson Garden-Bachop, 23 Ben Volavola
Brumbies: 15 Aidan Toua, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Andrew Smith, 11 Tom Banks, 10 Wharenui Hawera, 9 Joe Powell, 8 Jarrad Butler, 7 Chris Alcock, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Sam Carter (c), 4 Rory Arnold, 3 Allan Alaalatoa, 2 Robbie Abel, 1 Scott Sio
Replacements: 16 Saia Fainga’a, 17 Nic Mayhew, 18 Ben Alexander, 19 Blake Enever, 20 Tom Staniforth, 21 Tom Cusack, 22 De Wet Roos, 23 Jordan Jackson-Hope
Date: Saturday, April 15
Venue: AAMI Park, Melbourne
Kick-off: 19:45 local (09:45 GMT)
Referee: Glen Jackson
Assistant Referees: Brendon Pickerill, Rohan Hoffmann
TMO: George Ayoub