Rebels head coach Dave Wessels has dropped a selection surprise by naming both Brad Wilkin and Richard Hardwick in his starting back-row to face the Reds in the Super Rugby AU Qualifying Final.
The two renowned openside flankers will share the task of nullifying the breakdown threat posed by Reds captain Liam Wright and the competition’s leading fetcher Fraser McReight.
“We think they’ve both performed well,” explained Wessels.
“We have definitely picked two sevens to put some pressure on the ball ourselves but obviously Brad Wilkin’s playing really well, and Dickie Hardwick probably had the best game I’ve ever seen him play last week.
“So, it’s very hard not to pick those guys – I think it’s a case of them almost deserving selection, as much as it is a tactical decision.”
Andrew Kellaway also returns to the starting XV after sitting out last week in the Rebels’ thrilling come-from-behind win over the Force last weekend.
“Kells is obviously a very experienced winger and I think what we have to do is pick our most experienced backline that we can,” said Wessels
“It’s great to have guys like Dane back fit and playing well – he made a huge difference playing last week. So that’s the most experienced backline we can pick and in play-off games those things are important.”
With contracted Rebel halves Ryan Louwrens (bicep) and James Tuttle (hamstring) unavailable through injury, Sydney University scrum-half Theo Strang has answered an SOS from the Rebels to join camp and cover the nine position from the bench.
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“Theo’s played for us before at the start of Super Rugby; prior to COVID he actually started our first game in Japan, so he’s been part of the squad for quite a while.
“He wasn’t part of the original touring party but then when Ryan Louwrens was injured, we were only left with Frank Lomani and Bobby Tuttle as our two fit nines, so we had to bring in a third fit nine and that was Theo.
“Unfortunately for this week Bobby Tuttle has injured his hamstring, so he’s unavailable for selection.”
Elsewhere, loose forward Rob Leota and centre Campbell Magnay return to the match day 23 for the knockout clash.
“I’m excited about it – everyone plays to want to play in finals,” said Wessels.
“We’ve probably had a dress rehearsal for the finals in the last two weeks – we played almost like a final against the Waratahs and a final against the Force last week.
“I’m proud of the courage shown by the guys in both of those games to stay in all of those contests and get the outcomes we needed in both of them, so I think courage shown on the field has been indicative of the way we’ve carried ourselves off the field.”
Rebels: 15 Dane Haylett-Petty (c), 14 Andrew Kellaway, 13 Reece Hodge, 12 Bill Meakes, 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 Matt To’omua, 9 Frank Lomani, 8 Isi Naisarani, 7 Richard Hardwick, 6 Brad Wilkin, 5 Trevor Hosea, 4 Matt Philip, 3 Jermaine Ainsley, 2 Jordan Uelese, 1 Cameron Orr
Replacements: 16 Efitusi Ma’afu, 17 Cabous Eloff, 18 Matt Gibbon, 19 Michael Stolberg, 20 Rob Leota, 21 Theo Strang, 22 Andrew Deegan, 23 Campbell Magney
Date: Saturday 12 September
Venue: Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
Kick-off: 19:15 (10:15 BST, 09:15 GMT)
Referee: Nic Berry
Assistant referees: Damon Murphy, Jordan way
TMO: Brett Cronan