Preview: Rebels v Force
The Melbourne Rebels have limped back to Australia after a brutal South African tour to face the Western Force at nib Stadium.
The shocked by on-field and off-field issues, the Rebels must first visit Perth before finally returning to Melbourne.
The Western Force sit one position above the Rebels in the standings, separated by a single point. The Rebels scored their only win of the season against the Force in Round 1, while the Force’s only win was a far more credible one, beating the Reds at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane. That said, the Force were the embarrassing first scalp of the debutant Kings when they toured South Africa in February.
Don’t be underwhelmed by this encounter. Both teams are playing for pride and a semblance of dignity. It will be an urgent, desperate encounter with both sides tripping over themselves to prove they can play a quality game of rugby.
A loss for either side will essentially see their season down the plug-hole. Thus, a win this week will provide some relief, confidence and a kick start before the Australian super rugby season pauses to host the British and Irish Lions.
The Rebels beat the Force in their last encounter, at AAMI Park, scoring three tries to two in a game where the forwards dominated. Evidence to that can be seen in the score sheet where the Rebels hooker Ged Robinson scored their first try for the season which was then followed up by second rower Hugh Pyle.
This game will be won also by the forward pack who can gain ascendancy early. The Rebels forwards have been pummelled in recent weeks and may struggle to lift for this game, but if they’ve learnt the hard lessons from the Sharks and Cheetahs the Force forwards may be confronted by a group of men hell-bent on redemption.
The Rebels will miss three key starters for this game; number eight and captain Gareth Delve, tighthead Laurie Weeks and nuggety inside centre Lachlan Mitchell. Delve will be replaced at 8 by Scott Higginbotham, who will also captain the side.
Delve is suffering from multiple sore spots, while Mitchell is nursing a badly corked thigh. Weeks will again be replaced by Paul Alo-Emile while Lachlan Mitchell will be covered by former Western Force centre Rory Sidey.
The Force hadn’t named their side at the time of writing, but their side will remain largely unchanged. The usual suspects will take the field for the Western Force. They have an abundance of quality forwards, with several current or former Wallabies; Pekahou Cowan (prop), Matt Hodgson, Hugh McMeniman, Salesi Maafu and Richard Brown. Their potency has been well documented. Individually and as a unit, they have troubled the Rebels in recent games.
The Force’s imported fly-half Sias Eberhson should be too slick, too skilful and to quick for his opposite number Angus Roberts. Roberts made his name in grade rugby in Sydney but hasn’t had the break game many were looking for.
The only major change for the Force will be the absence of Chris Eaton. The scrum-half has returned to New Zealand following the tragic death of his wife in a car accident. Eaton’s absence will likely allow for the promotion of Michael Snowdon from the extended squad to a bench position.
The sides have both had weeks they’d rather forget. They’re both looking to future but only one side will get the chance to resurrect 2013.
Last Encounter: Rebels 30 -23 Force (Melbourne)
Key Battle: The battle to watch in this match will be between opposing centres Mitch Inman and Winston Stanley. The Force’s Winston Stanley is a rough and tumble, fleet of foot utility back. Mitch Inman is a no-nonsense, big framed crash-baller. The phase play will develop from the ability of either man to bust a hole through the defensive line and stretch the opposition.
Prediction: The Rebels probably have more to prove but are emotionally and physically depleted. The Western Force have some optimism on their side following their near miss against the Waratahs. Western Force by 7 points.
Force (probable): 15 Alfi Mafi, 14 Pat Dellit, 13 Winston Stanley, 12 Kyle Godwin, 11 Junior Rasolea, 10 Sias Ebersohn, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Richard Brown, 7 Matt Hodgson, 6 Ben McCalman, 5 Hugh McMeninam, 4 Toby Lynn, 3 Salesi Maafu, 2 Heath Tessman, 1 Pekahou Cowan.
Replacements: 16 Ben Whittaker, 17 Keiran Longbottom, 18 Sam Wykes, 19 Chris Alcock, 20 Michael Snowden, 21 Sam Christie, 22 Sam Norton-Knight.
Rebels: 15 James O’Connor, 14 Jason Woodward, 13 Mitch Inman, 12 Rory Sidey, 11 Richard Kingi, 10 Angus Roberts, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Scott Higginbotham, 7 Scott Higginbotham, 6 Luke Jones, 5 Cadeyrn Neville, 4 Hugh Pyle, 3 Paul Alo Emile, 2 Ged Robinson, 1 Nic Henderson.
Replacements: 16 Shota Horie, 17 Laurie Weeks, 18 Jarrod Saffy, 19 Jordy Reid, 20 Nic Stirzaker, 21 Tom English, 22 Cooper Vuna.
Date: Saturday, 6 April
Venue: nib Stadium, Perth
Referee: Mike Fraser (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Rohan Hoffman (Australia), James Leckie (Australia)
Television match official: Matt Goddard (Australia)