The Rebels and the Brumbies head into Friday's Super Rugby encounter as the unbeaten teams in the Australian conference.
The Brumbies made short work of the Reds, who have been the yard stick of the conference in recent years. The Rebels by comparison had a patchy performance to claim the points against the Western Force.
The Rebels, buoyed with the return of several key players from rest and injury, showed signs they're shedding the tag of easy beats. While they were far from clinical, their forwards were robust and their backs competent. They dropped plenty of ball and gave away silly penalties and were also blighted by the sin-binning of start recruit Scott Higginbotham who was a too enthusiastic at the breakdown.
The Brumbies though, have put the conference on notice and with the standard of their game against the Reds. Their hustle and bustle kept their more fancied opponents at bay. The return of influential playmaker Christian Lealiifano at inside centre and the injection of former Western Force flanker David Pocock into the back row have given the team two go-to players in pivotal moments.
Counting the pre-season, the Brumbies are travelling 3-0 with wins against the Force and the ACT amateur representative side in addition to the Reds last week. The Rebels are travelling 1-2 after credible loses to the Waratahs and the Highlanders in the preseason, and their seven-point victory over the Force.
In their two encounters last season, the Brumbies triumphed. The Brumbies humbled the Rebels on a wintery Canberra night. They ran the Rebels in the forwards and the backs. When the Rebels hosted the return encounter, the match was far closer. Outscored two tries to one, the Rebels scored late through a Cooper Vuna try but couldn't peg back the lead to go down by eight points.
It's hard to predict what kind of game we'll get from these sides based on last week.
The Brumbies clearly played a higher quality opponent. One can expect the Brumbies to unleash the fire power of the front 10, particularly with scrum-half Nick White and inside centre Christian Lealiifano respectively organising their forwards and midfield up the ground.
The Rebels will need the trio of Scott Higginbotham, Gareth Delve and new blindside flanker Scott Fuglistaller to get the job done in close to nullify David Pocock and will need to look wide quickly for their scoring opportunities through Kurtley Beale's spiral passes.
Prediction: The Brumbies have the better form and have proven it against a classier opponent. They also have greater depth. The Rebels will push them, and push them very hard. They'll also have to stay very cool and clinical to come close. The Brumbies to win by 7, with a bonus point!
Melbourne Rebels: 15 James O'Connor, 14 Lachlan Mitchell, 13 Mitch Inman, 12 Rory Sidey, 11 Richard Kingi, 10 Kurtley Beale, 9 Nic Phipps, 8 Gareth Delve, 7 Scott Fuglistaller, 6 Scott Higginbotham, 5 Luke Jones, 4 Hugh Pyle, 3 Laurie Weeks, 2 Ged Robinson, 1 Nic Henderson.
Replacements: 16 Shota Horie, 17 Paul Alo Emile, 18 Cadeyrn Neville, 19 Jarrod Saffy, 20 Nick Stirzaker, 21 Alex Rokobaro, 22 Tom English.
Brumbies: 15 Jesse Mogg, 14 Joe Tomane, 13 Andrew Smith, 12 Christian Lealiifano, 11 Clyde Rathbone, 10 Matt Toomua, 9 Nic White, 8 Ben Mowen (c), 7 David Pocock, 6 Peter Kimlin, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Scott Fardy, 3 Dan Palmer, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Ben Alexander.
Replacements: 16 Siliva Siliva, 17 Scott Sio, 18 Fotu Auelua, 19 Colby Faingaa, 20 Ian Prior, 21 Robbie Coleman, 22 Tevita Kuridrani.
Date: Friday, 22 February
Venue: AAMI Park, Melbourne
Kick-off: 19:40 (08:40 GMT)
Referee: James Leckie (Australia)
Assistant referees: Angus Gardner (Australia), Ian Smith (Australia)
Television match official: George Ayoub (Australia)
By Paul Roberton