Planet Rugby

Preview: Rebels v Waratahs

22nd May 2014 09:26

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The Rebels face a daunting task with Friday's visit to Melbourne of the mighty Waratahs, but write them off at your peril.

Most of us here at PR Towers are growing fond of the Rebels. Light on stars but heavy on spirit, they showed their resilience in overcoming an admittedly embattled and struggling Reds side in Brisbane last week, Jason Woodward kicking the winning penalty in a 30-27 victory.

The game was marred by the sending-off of Ed O'Donoghue late on, but the significance of a rare away triumph - their first of the season - to Tony McGahan's men should not be overlooked; before Saturday, they had only ever beaten the Force on the road. Nor should the quality of the squad he has assembled in Melbourne.

Luke Burgess is a smooth operator at nine with lovely hands, pace and vision, bagging a brace of tries at Suncorp Stadium. Tamati Ellison has added guile and penetration in midfield, Luke Jones and Hugh Pyle work tirelessly in the engine room, Woodward and the ever-improving Bryce Hegarty run the show and of course, Scott Higginbotham has it all at number eight.

It's a blend that, in Super Rugby terms, shows promise but needs improvement before talk of the playoffs becomes anything beyond a pipe dream.

This week, the Rebels are challenged with building a little consistency, smoothing out the patchy form that has seen them claim scalps but fail to perform week in, week out.

Downing Michael Cheika's visiting Waratahs is a tough ask, but AAMI Park can be something of a banana-skin venue for the big boys, with the similarly potent Brumbies already coming a cropper on the Melbourne turf earlier this season.

McGahan makes two changes, with the injured Burgess replaced by Ben Meehan, and ex-'Tah Josh Holmes in the matchday 23 for the first time. Prop Laurie Weeks' ankle knock means Paul Alo-Emile comes into the front-row, while Max Lahiff is added to the bench.

Cheika's charges strolled to victory over the lowly Lions in Sydney last week, with pivot Bernard Foley exerting a rather audible throat-clear in the direction of Wallabies boss Ewen McKenzie as Quade Cooper's injury woes worsen.

They will be considered heavy favourites for Friday's Melbourne matchup, buoyed by a bye a fortnight ago and by the combination of favourable results in the Round 14 that saw them scale the standings anew.

Their only real worry comes at scrum-time, where they have shown signs of frailty - even when so unanimously dominant in Sunday's win, the set-piece struggle will have been a cause for concern for Cheika and co.

The Rebels are on the up in the tight, but whether they'll be able to disrupt and destabilise the 'Tahs scrum enough to prevent the ball reaching Messrs Foley, Kurtley Beale, Adam Ashley-Cooper and of course, Israel Folau is another matter. They certainly can't afford to fall off tackles.

The Waratahs, unsurprisingly, make only two changes to the team that triumphed over the Lions for Friday's Weary Dunlop Shield encounter. Popular South African Jacques Potgieter replaces Will Skelton at second-row, while fit-again Alofa Alofa slots in on the right wing for Matt Carraro.

Form: The Rebels have won two of their past five matches, adding a home victory over the high-flying Force to last weekend's Brisbane delight. However, they have mustered just four wins in their Super Rugby campaign to date - the others coming over the Brumbies and Cheetahs - and have beaten the Waratahs just once.

The 'Tahs have won three of their last five games, adding home wins over the Hurricanes and the Bulls to Sunday's victory. Their current tally stands at played 11, won seven.

Previous results:
2014: Waratahs won 32-8 in Sydney
2013: Rebels won 24-22 in Melbourne
2013: Waratahs won 31-26 in Sydney
2012: Waratahs won 30-21 in Sydney
2012: Waratahs won 35-19 in Melbourne

Prediction: The 'Tahs are too strong, and they'll win by 14!

The teams:

Rebels: 15 Jason Woodward, 14 Tom Kingston, 13 Tamati Ellison, 12 Mitch Inman, 11 Tom English, 10 Bryce Hegarty, 9 Ben Meehan, 8 Scott Higginbotham (c), 7 Scott Fuglistaller, 6 Colby Fainga'a, 5 Luke Jones, 4 Cadeyrn Neville, 3 Paul Alo-Emile, 2 Pat Leafa, 1 Toby Smith
Replacements: 16 Steve Fualau, 17 Cruze Ah-Nau, 18 Max Lahiff, 19 Hugh Pyle, 20 Sean McMahon, 21 Josh Holmes, 22 Jack Debreczeni, 23 Telusa Veainu

Waratahs: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Alofa Alofa, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Rob Horne, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Dave Dennis, 5 Kane Douglas, 4 Jacques Potgieter, 3 Paddy Ryan, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Benn Robinson
Replacements (two to be omitted): 16 Hugh Roach, 17 Jeremy Tilse, 18 Sekope Kepu, 19 Will Skelton, 20 Stephen Hoiles, 21 Brendan McKibbin, 22 Jono Lance, 23 Matt Carraro, 24 Pat McCutcheon, 25 Taqele Naiyaravoro

Date: Friday 23rd May
Venue: AAMI Park
Kick-off: 1940 local, 1040 BST
Referee: Rohan Hoffman (Aus)
Assistant referees: Matt O'Brien, Graham Cooper (both Aus)
TMO: George Ayoub (Aus)

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1Waratahs1658
2Crusaders1651
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6Highlanders1642
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2Brumbies1645
3Western Force1640
4Reds1628
5Melbourne Rebels1621
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1Sharks1650
2Bulls1638
3Stormers1632
4Lions1631
5Cheetahs1624