Rebels second-row Hugh Pyle will make his 50th Super Rugby appearance for the outfit when they travel to the Chiefs on Saturday.
Rebels lock Hugh Pyle will make his 50th Super Rugby appearance for the franchise when they play host to the Chiefs in Hamilton on Saturday.
Pyle becomes the first player in the club's history to reach the milestone in Super Rugby, following Lachlan Mitchell's achievement of reaching 50 caps (including one against the British and Irish Lions) before suffering an untimely season-ending knee injury against the 'Tahs in Sydney.
“Hugh is a very important part of the team; he's part of our leadership group, he is our lineout caller and he has gained a lot of experience. He is driving things forward with Scott Higginbotham and the other leaders, and he continues to fulfil an important role,” said boss Tony McGahan.
McGahan has shown faith in his side following their tight loss to the Highlanders last Friday, making just two changes to the squad as he welcomes the return of Colby Fainga'a and Tom Kingston from injury.
Fainga'a, who impressed against the Brumbies in Round Seven, goes back into the starting line-up at blindside flanker, with Sean McMahon relegated to the bench to replace Jordy Reid. Utility back Kingston replaces Alex Rokobaro on the reserves bench.
“Colby Fainga'a went really well against the Brumbies, so we thought we'd give him another opportunity to start this weekend,” McGahan said.
“Sean McMahon, Colby and Scott Fuglistaller have been doing a great job with all of their game time this year and it's been a couple of really competitive positions there in the backrow.”
Fly-half Bryce Hegarty has recovered after following concussion protocols. Hegarty was replaced against the Highlanders in the opening minutes, however McGahan is pleased to be able to call on the second-year pivot against the reigning Super Rugby champions.
“We have a fabulous medical team, and Dr Asheer Singh and physiotherapist David Rundle have kept a close eye on Bryce and followed the protocols closely,” McGahan said.
“He has ticked all the boxes, and is right to go.”
McGahan hopes to see young backline star Tom English provided with plenty of chances with the ball in hand.
“Tom has been terrific with the opportunities he's taken thus far this year,” he said.
“We're really eager to get him as involved as possible off his wing when the ball's travelling away from him, and also with the kick retreats. He's working hard to make sure he capitalises on any opportunities he gets.”
Nic Stirzaker retains his starting jersey, despite strong form from Luke Burgess off the reserves bench in the last two weeks.
“We are very lucky to have two good scrumhalves who are equally capable of starting or completing games,” McGahan said.
“They've been high energy with what they're delivering for the team, and they are working hard together to make sure we are successful with what we produce on the field.”
McGahan said the team were continuing to place an emphasis on improving their field kicking ahead of the game, after a few uncharacteristic errors against the Highlanders.
“We always do plenty of training around our kicking every week, and the players are still working hard and understanding that. We know if we don't get that right we will be punished against good teams, and it certainly has been given extra attention this week.”
Rebels: 15 Jason Woodward, 14 Male Sau, 13 Tamati Ellison, 12 Mitch Inman, 11 Tom English, 10 Bryce Hegarty, 9 Nic Stirzaker, 8 Scott Higginbotham (c), 7 Scott Fuglistaller, 6 Colby Fainga'a, 5 Luke Jones, 4 Hugh Pyle, 3 Laurie Weeks, 2 Shota Horie, 1 Toby Smith.
Replacements: 16 Pat Leafa, 17 Cruze Ah-Nau, 18 Paul Alo-Emilie, 19 Cadeyrn Neville, 20 Sean McMahon, 21 Luke Burgess, 22 Tom Kingston, 23 Angus Roberts.
Date: Saturday, April 12
Kick-off: 19.35 local (07.35 GMT)
Venue: Waikato Stadium, Hamilton
Referee: Matt O'Brien (Australia)
Assistant referees: Nick Briant (New Zealand), Ben O'Keefe (New Zealand)