Preview: Reds v Rebels

Date published: May 14 2015

How times have changed in Australia since 2011 when the Reds were top of the Super Rugby pile while the Rebels were struggling basement dwellers.

Fast forward four years and it's the Queensland side occupying bottom spot, looking up at a Melbourne Rebels franchise enjoying an excellent run of form.

The Rebels are currently tenth in the overall standings, eighteen points up on the Reds after winning four of their last five league games. They have the top six in their sights too and why not as they're playing good rugby and possess a collective spirit that seems unbreakable.

Meanwhile, the Reds are moving into dangerous territory as their campaign continues to unravel. Remember, at the end of this term they bid farewell to the likes of Will Genia, Quade Cooper and James Horwill so plenty of questions will be asked of the new blood when 2016 begins.

2015's class have hardly set the bar high though and if the Reds do not improve their defence, which is the second worst in the competition, to go with a poor points return with ball in hand (147 from 11 games), this confident Rebels side will make them pay in Brisbane on Friday.

If the Rebels do make it five wins out of their most recent six outings they will put extra pressure on the Lions, Crusaders, Waratahs and Highlanders above them in the standings, while they will hope the Blues manage to get one over the Bulls in the opening match of the round.

There are no stars in a side led by free-scoring captain Scott Higginbotham as the likes of Nic Stirzaker, Jack Debreczeni, Luke Jones and many more are improving by the game in Super Rugby. Another victory this week and they, like the Rebels, will be taken much more seriously.

The last time these teams met: The Rebels won the reverse fixture in Melbourne, prevailing 23-15 in a game that saw Reds lock James Horwill being sent-off after 20 minutes for a swinging arm. The Reds were leading 12-3 before that red card but then the wheels came off, with lock Lopeti Timani, wing Tom English and scrum-half Nic Stirzaker going over for the Rebels, with the Reds kept scoreless in the second period.

Players to watch: The Reds will hope the shift of James O'Connor to full-back will see him become more involved in games. On paper this looks like a good backline but all eyes will be on Jake McIntyre at fly-half to see if he can make things click for a side in desperate need of a morale-boosting performance. Of course some airtime will also be given to Karmichael Hunt in the outside centre slot.

The return of Tamati Ellison is a major boost to the Rebels as his defensive solidity alongside Mitch Inman has been crucial this season. Against his former team, Mike Harris will look to make any Reds indiscretion pay off the tee while Luke Jones will be his usual busy self.

Team news: Karmichael Hunt will make his return for the Reds at outside centre after being named in a revamped backline. James O'Connor is named at full-back with Lachie Turner on the right wing while youngster Jake McIntyre gets a run at fly-half in the absence of Nick Frisby.

Meanwhile, three internationals return to the Rebels' matchday 23 this week, as Tamati Ellison and Sean McMahon come into the XV at centre and blindside flanker respectively. Laurie Weeks is named on the bench as prop cover alongside one of last Friday's stars, Colby Fainga'a.

Form: It has been a dismal campaign so far for the Reds, with just two wins from eleven games leaving them bottom of the overall standings. Their last victory came three outings ago in Bloemfontein against the Cheetahs but either side of that they have lost heavily, conceding a total of 18 tries in their last three defeats. Last time out the Reds were demolished by the Crusaders, going down 58-17 in Christchurch.

In contrast, the Rebels have won four of their last five games to put themselves just five points off the top six places. Credit to them as they have played decent rugby in the process, with that Week One win in Christchurch proving no fluke as a fascinating season run-in awaits.

Prediction: The Reds will be much improved from last week's defeat and being on home soil it will be close. But we think the Rebels by 10!

Previous results:

2015: Rebels won 23-15 in Melbourne
2014: Reds won 36-20 in Melbourne
2014: Rebels won 30-27 in Brisbane
2013: Reds won 33-20 in Brisbane
2013: Reds won 23-13 in Melbourne

The teams:

Reds: 15 James O'Connor, 14 Chris Feauai-Sautia, 13 Karmichael Hunt, 12 Samu Kerevi, 11 Lachie Turner, 10 Jake McIntyre, 9 Will Genia, 8 Jake Schatz, 7 Liam Gill, 6 Adam Thomson, 5 James Horwill, 4 Rob Simmons, 3 Greg Holmes, 2 James Hanson, 1 James Slipper (c).
Replacements: 16 Andrew Ready, 17 Pettowa Paraka, 18 Sam Talakai, 19 Ed O’Donoghue, 20 Lolo Fakaosilea, 21 Nick Frisby/Scott Gale, 22 Sam Greene, 23 Ben Tapuai.

Rebels: 15 Mike Harris, 14 Dom Shipperley, 13 Tamati Ellison, 12 Mitch Inman, 11 Sefanaia Naivalu, 10 Jack Debreczeni, 9 Nic Stirzaker, 8 Scott Higginbotham (c), 7 Jordy Reid, 6 Sean McMahon, 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 Laurie Weeks, 19 Cadeyrn Neville, 20 Colby Fainga'a, 21 Luke Burgess, 22 Bryce Hegarty, 23 Tom English.

Date: Friday, 15 May
Venue: Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
Kick-off: 19:40 local (9:40 GMT, 21:40 NZST, 11:40 SAST)
Referee: Andrew Lees (Australia)
Assistant Referees: James Leckie, Michael Hogan (Australia)
TMO: Ian Smith