Preview: Rebels v Chiefs

Date published: May 2 2013

The Rebels and Chiefs do battle at AAMI Park in Melbourne on Friday, with the visitors out to inflict more woe on their struggling hosts.

The Rebels and Chiefs do battle at AAMI Park in Melbourne on Friday, with the visitors out to inflict more woe on their struggling hosts.

The Melbourne side have been running hot and cold in recent weeks. They beat the Force, suffered an upset loss to the Kings and were edged by the Crusaders.

The Chiefs have had similar misfortune. They beat the Sharks last week but suffered successive defeats to the Waratahs and the Reds.

The defending champions sit second on the overall log and have a slender lead atop the New Zealand conference. The Rebels by comparison sit 12th overall and fourth within the Australian conference.

In short, this game will be a mismatch between two teams at opposite ends of the log and the Rebels really shouldn't be expected to win.

While recent history is a fair indicator of the Rebels form, the Chiefs' recent run shouldn't be a factor in this game. Liam Messam (flanker), Tim Nanai-Williams (centre) and Asaeli Tikoirotuma (wing) all fired against the Sharks. Nanai-Williams and Tikoirotuma provided plenty of entertaining backline play that resulted in tries, while Messam produced a high-work rate at the breakdown.

By comparison, the Rebels big-name players haven't yet delivered consistently to the same level. James O'Connor's try against the Crusaders was impressive but he hasn't produced that flair and incisive running week-in-week-out. Scott Higginbotham, their replacement captain, has also stood up and worked hard but hasn't turned his productivity into points.

Like most New Zealand teams, the Chiefs strength is in turning sturdy defence into attack. Their defence has been questioned at times which could be pressured if the Rebels can avoid dropping the ball at key moments.

Some have criticised the Chiefs for a lack of direction in their forward pack but their ability to run the ball can't be faulted. They can certainly press a competitive advantage and build momentum to keep the Rebels on the back foot.

Higginbotham, Scott Fuglistaller and Jarrod Saffy have become a highly dynamic and cohesive loose trio, but containing the Chiefs forwards and countering them at the ruck will be a tall order.

The last time these sides met was in 2011 when the Chiefs wore down the Rebels with possession in a four-try bonus point performance.

Prediction: The Chiefs are too good a team to remain off-the-boil. They'll consolidate their winning ways with another bonus-point victory. The Rebels, will put up a courageous performance similar to last week, but will be outclassed. Chiefs by more than 14 points.

The teams:

Rebels: 15 Jason Woodward, 14 Tom English, 13 Mitch Inman, 12 Rory Sidey, 11 Cooper Vuna, 10 James O'Connor, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Scott Higginbotham (c), 7 Scott Fuglistaller, 6 Jarrod Saffy, 5 Cadeyrn Neville, 4 Hugh Pyle, 3 Laurie Weeks, 2 Ged Robinson, 1 Nic Henderson.
Replacements: 16 Shota Horie, 17 Paul Alo-Emile, 18 Luke Jones, 19 Gareth Delve, 20 Nic Stirzaker, 21 Kurtley Beale, 22 Lachlan Mitchell.

Chiefs: 15 Gareth Anscombe, 14 Lelia Masaga, 13 Tim Nanai-Williams, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Asaeli Tikoirotuma, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Brendon Leonard, 8 Matt Vant Leven, 7 Sam Cane, 6 Liam Messam, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Craig Clarke (c), 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Mahonri Schwalger, 1 Pauliasi Manu.
Replacements: 16 Hika Elliot, 17 Toby Smith, 18 Michael Fitzgerald, 19 Tanerau Latimer, 20 Augustine Pulu, 21 Robbie Robinson, 22 Patrick Osborne.

Date: Friday, May 3
Kick-off: 19:40 local (10:40 BST, 09:40 GMT)
Venue: AAMI Park, Melbourne
Referee: Garratt Williamson (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Ian Smith (Australia), Richard Goswell (Australia)
Television match official: Steve Leszczynski (Australia)

By Paul Roberton