Preview: Rebels v Cheetahs

Date published: April 21 2016

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The Melbourne Rebels will be hoping to improve their home record when they face the Cheetahs in Melbourne on Friday.

Tony McGahan's side's most memorable win so far has to be the 21-17 victory over the Waratahs in Round Six, in fact the triumph over the 2014 champions could go down as one that might just spark a turnaround seasons when they look back a few years down the line.

That victory does not neccesarily mean that they will be getting their hands on any Super Rugby silverware but it certainly has boosted their confidence as they currently occupy second position on the Australian Conference table – four points adrift of the Brumbies.

With the record books favouring the Cheetahs in this fixture, the Rebels will be hoping for a repeat of their 35-14 win in 2014. The visitors will be confident though, having won three of the four previous encounters since 2011.

Speedster Sergeal Petersen was impressive in last week's 92-17 thrashing of the Sunwolves at the Free State Stadium. The winger not only scored a hat-trick but also gained an astonishing 193 metres for the Bloemfontein outfit.

Not taking anything away from the outstanding feat achieved by Franco Smith's men but the Japanese franchise were nearing the end of a three-week tour in South Africa. 

Smith has also been under fire for his side's rather average performances, only winning two, so far but with history on their side the visitors will definitely be backing themselves to get their second consecutive win.

The Cheetahs second-row Francois Uys, who at the start of the season had to play second fiddle to the 2015 South African Rugby Player of Year, Lood de Jager, has been impressive at lineout time.

The visitors have used the 29-year-old Uys to good effect as he has not lost a ball on their own throw this season. This has allowed quality ball for the exciting Cheetahs backline.

Credit needs to go to the dominating Cheetahs second-rowers as they have taken, on average, 13 lineouts in every game so far, the Reds are the only other team to have recorded such a high average.

Quality first phase ball for the visitors is certain to bring out the best in a never-say-die Rebels outfit, the latter have – based on recent form – become known to put in a spirited effort for the full 80.

Last time these teams met: The Rebels outclassed the Cheetahs by 35-14 in Round One back in 2014 in Melbourne. The home side outscored the South Africans by five tries to two. The Melbourne outfit maintained their winning ways after a promising pre-season. Rebels head coach Tony McGahan, who was in his second year in charge, had eight new faces in his starting XV. The new look half-back pairing of Bryce Hegarty and Luke Burgess were impressive as the home side went into the half with a comfortable 17-0 lead. Wallabies duo Kurtley Beale and James O'Connor were equally inspirational as a bonus point victory was secured for the home side. 

Players to watch: The 21-year-old Sean McMahon has been instrumental for the Melbourne outfit each week. A strong ball carrier and equally disciplined on defence, the loose forward has beaten 30 defenders so far this season – the most by any player in the tournament. Utility back Reece Hodge made six carries and won three turnovers despite last week's 38-13 loss to the Hurricanes. 

Cheetahs hat-trick hero Sergeal Petersen gained an impressive 193 metres for his side in their record equalling 92-17 victory over the Sunwolves last week. Petersen not only scored three times but assisted with three of his side's fourteen tries. Number eight Paul Schoeman, who also crossed the whitewash on three occasions, kept the Sunwolves defence busy with eleven carries beating three defenders and making two clean breaks.

Previous results:

2014: Rebels won 35-14 in Melbourne
2013: Cheetahs won 16-34 in Bloemfontein
2012: Cheetahs won 26-33 in Melbourne
2011: Cheetahs won 21-41 in Bloemfontein

Team news: The return of Colby Fainga’a from injury headlines five new inclusions in the Rebels matchday squad. Fainga’a will make his Super Rugby return from the reserves bench after recovering from an elbow injury.McGahan has made four changes to the run-on side that lost to the Hurricanes last weekend with Toby Smith, returning from a concussion, 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 and Cam Crawford swap wings. Centre Sione Tuipulotu and Japanese international Kotaro Matsushima have been recalled to the team with the pair to start on the reserve bench against the Cheetahs.

Meanwhile, Cheetahs head coach Franco Smith has gone with an unchanged starting XV from last Friday's 92-17 win over the Sunwolves in Bloemfontein. The only change to the matchday squad sees tighthead prop Luan de Bruin replace Johan Coetzee on the bench. Sergeal Petersen and Paul Schoeman, who each scored hat-tricks last week, start on the wing and at number eight respectively, with Francois Venter captaining the side at inside centre.

Form: The home side are currently in second position on the Australian Conference table after four wins from seven matches. Their most memorable win was against the Waratahs in Round Six, the 21-17 triumph saw them come to within four points of the table topping Brumbies after the men from Canberra lost to the Chiefs in the same week. The Rebels' losses came against the Bulls, the Highlanders and more recently the Hurricanes. Their remaining victories were against a struggling Reds side in Round Three, newcomers the Sunwolves and the Force in the opening round.

The Cheetahs are coming off that thrashing against the Sunwolves in Bloemfontein. They have only recorded one other victory before last week's thumping, their first was in the Round Three against the men from the Far East as well. The men from Bloemfontein are currently in third position, in Africa Conference One, eleven points off second-placed the Bulls. 

Prediction: Despite the Cheetahs' fourteen try thumping of the Sunwolves last week, the home side have the better form in the last five matches. Rebels to win by more than five points. 

The Teams:

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

Cheetahs: 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Sergeal Petersen, 13 Nico Lee, 12 Francois Venter (c), 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Niel Marais, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 Paul Schoeman, 7 Uzair Cassiem, 6 Hilton Lobberts, 5 Francois Uys, 4 Lood de Jager, 3 Maks van Dyk, 2 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 1 Charles Marais
Replacements: 16 Jacques du Toit, 17 Danie Minnie, 18 Johan Coetzee, 19 Carl Wegner, 20 Henco Venter, 21 Oupa Mohoje, 22 Tian Meyer, 23 Fred Zeilinga

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

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