Preview: Rebels v Reds

Date published: June 26 2014

The two worst Australian sides by some distance in Super Rugby, Friday sees the Rebels host the Reds at AAMI Park in Melbourne.

The two worst Australian side by some distance, Friday sees the Rebels host the Reds at AAMI Park in Melbourne.

It has been a comparatively dismal season in for both sets of fans compared to the exploits of the Waratahs, Force and Brumbies.

Both teams met as recently as May 17, when the Rebels made history by defeating the Reds for the first time since their inception in 2011.

Ironically that contest was the best the Reds have played for weeks, showing ambition in attack and scoring three tries only for the defence to let them down once again. They backed that up by defeating the Highlanders 38-31 before the Test window break.

Overall though it has been an utterly catastrophic campaign for Richard Graham in his first year in Queensland. Three years ago the Reds were champions, but in 2014 they have been completely outclassed and leaked points at an alarming rate – 409 in total at an average of 31.4.

Injuries have not helped their cause but neither has a dramatic loss of form. Key performers including skipper James Horwill and scrum-half Will Genia haven't hit the heights of yesteryear.

Asking plenty from young guys like Jake Schatz, Curtis Browning and the rest has left the Reds looking a little lightweight at times when addressing their injury concerns.

Statistically their set-piece is solid and Beau Robinson offers a competitive edge at the breakdown where Liam Gill has been missed, but the intensity hasn't always been there. In attack only the Bulls have made fewer clean breaks.

Now they have to press on without Genia and Quade Cooper, with both injured for the rest of the Super Rugby season.

Long-term for Australia coach and former Reds boss Ewen McKenzie this isn't bad news as both players have time to rest before the Rugby World Cup, but the Reds will miss their leadership. Remarkably, it's the first time the Reds have played without either player in the side since 2008.

Nick Frisby is the man charged with filling Genia's boot as he partners the dependable Ben Lucas at half-back.

Keeping the Rugby World Cup in mind, Luke Burgess excelled for the Rebels in that 30-27 win in Brisbane to lay down his marker.

Scoring two tries, the former Test number nine has returned to Australia from Toulouse with next year's tournament in mind. Competition at scrum-half for Australia right now is healthy with Nic White, Nick Phipps and Genia all competing, but Burgess hasn't gone unnoticed.

There are hints of progress from the Rebels this season following the decluttering of ineffective superstars and the bonding together of a tightknit group of players.

Despite recent batterings by the Waratahs and Brumbies they have been conceding fewer points as their tackle success percentage of 88.1 underlines, relying on the boot of Hurricanes-bound Jason Woodward to win tight contests.

The full-back has stood out, one of the top five metre-makers in Super Rugby so far this season along with having scored 139 points.

Deploying a gritty pack led by Scott Higginbotham, director of rugby Tony McGahan should be mildly pleased.

But the Rebels aren't scoring enough tries – just 23 all season, despite beating a respectable number of defenders and making enough clean breaks. Their points tally of 259 is the lowest in the competition.

Finding that extra edge could turn them into an interesting prospect, hence the signings of Cam Crawford and Dom Shipperley for 2015.

The Rebels welcome back exciting blindside flanker Sean McMahon, who returns to Super Rugby action after leading Australia's U20 national side at the IRB's Junior World Championship in New Zealand recently.

With McMahon back, to wear the number six jersey, it means that Colby Fainga'a moves across to the openside with Scott Fuglistaller dropping down to the bench.

Amongst the backs, Jack Debreczeni makes his run-on debut at full-back, which means Jason Woodward shifts to right wing while Wallaby scrum-half Luke Burgess also returns to the starting line-up, after recovering from an ankle injury sustained in the corresponding fixture in Brisbane in Round 14.

Form: The Rebels have won only four games all season and only one of those has come since their bye week in Round 11 – against the Reds in Brisbane. They have conceded 78 points in their last two matches. The Reds on the other hand last time out won their first match after a run of six straight defeats, moving them off the bottom of the log.

Previous Results:
2014: Rebels won 30-27 in Brisbane
2013: Reds won 33-20 in Brisbane
2013: Reds won 23-13 in Melbourne
2012: Reds won 32-17 in Melbourne
2012: Reds won 11-6 in Brisbane

Prediction: Should that Rebels eight get on top and boss the breakdown, then Woodward can hold the Reds off with the boot. Another tight contest. Rebels by three.

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

Reds: 15 Mike Harris, 14 Rod Davies, 13 Ben Tapuai, 12 Anthony Fainga'a, 11 Dom Shipperley, 10 Ben Lucas, 9 Nick Frisby, 8 Jake Schatz, 7 Beau Robinson, 6 Curtis Browning, 5 James Horwill (c), 4 Rob Simmons, 3 Greg Holmes, 2 James Hanson, 1 James Slipper.
Replacements: 16 Saia Fainga'a, 17 Albert Anae, 18 Ben Daley, 19 Dave McDuling, 20 Liam Gill, 21 Samuela Kerevi, 22 Jamie-Jerry Taulagi, 23 Lachie Turner.

Date: Friday, June 27
Venue: AAMI Park, Melbourne
Kick-off: 19.40 local (09.40 GMT, 10.40 BST)
Referee: Angus Gardner (Australia)
Assistant Referees: Matt O'Brien (Australia), Damien Mitchelmore (Australia)
TMO: George Ayoub (Australia)