The Highlanders from Dunedin travel across the ditch to meet up with the Rebels, at home in Melbourne for the first time in 2019.
It was oh-so-close. The final round of 2018 and the Rebels are at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin. The score is 43-37 in favour of the Highlanders and the Rebels have one final play at the full-time siren to get over the line. Jack Maddocks can smell the tryline, however, Waisake Naholo has other ideas and the Rebels’ first chance at finals footy goes out the window with one crushing tackle…
These two teams have met seven times, with the Rebels only coming out on top once – a classic come-from-behind win at AAMI Park in the last round of 2013. Is it time again for the Rebels to get one up on the South Islanders? They certainly have the cattle, but is it enough to better the clansmen?
The Highlanders are two from two, after two very close wins over an average Chiefs away and an impressive Reds at home. Meanwhile, the Rebels have only played one match and came home from Canberra with a win in round one over the Brumbies. An unwelcome round two bye makes it hard to judge how the Rebels have started their season, in fact evaluating any team after only two rounds involves a fair amount of guesswork. Both teams look OK.
Quade Cooper v Bryn Gatland (Flyhalf): Bryn “Son of Warren” Gatland makes his Highlanders debut after a fairly uninspiring stint at the Blues. How the new kid on the block shapes up against “old” master Quade will be an interesting contest.
Jack Maddocks v Waisake Naholo (Wing): Naholo spoiled Maddocks’ (and the Rebels’) party the last time these two teams met in Dunedin. Will Mad Dog get his revenge or will the ever-impressive Naholo be a big party-pooper?
Waisake Naholo – on the attack (as usual)
Should I bother?
Yeah, why not. It will be interesting to see how Quade Cooper performs after impressing so much in his round one debut for the Rebels. Was it a one-off, or has he started as he means to finish? We shall wait and see (and hope).
Quade gives Joe Powell some styling tips
The Rebels have made minimal changes to the starting 15 that took on the Brumbies two weeks ago. Sam Talakai comes into the front row, pushing Jermaine Ainsley back to the bench, while Brad Wilkin swaps with Dicky Hardwick. Meanwhile, on the pine, Reece Hodge and Adam Coleman make a welcome return after injury.
Things are very different with the boys from Dunedin. The Highlanders have made a raft of changes in line with the requirement for New Zealand Super Rugby teams having to rest certain All Blacks. This has resulted in a team so different to the previous week that only five starters remain from when they played the Reds in Dunedin.
Ben Smith is out, as is Aaron Smith, Luke Whitelock and hooker Liam Coltman. Bryn Gatland, the son of Wales coach Warren Gatland will make his debut for the Highlanders at Flyhalf, moving Josh Ioane to Fullback.
Starters: 1. Tetera Faulkner 2. Anaru Rangi 3. Sam Talakai 4. Luke Jones 5. Matt Philip 6. Angus Cottrell 7. Brad Wilkin 8. Isi Naisarani 9. Will Genia 10. Quade Cooper 11. Marika Koroibete 12. Billy Meakes 13. Tom English 14. Jack Maddocks 15. Dane Haylett-Petty(c)
Finishers: 16. Robbie Abel 17. Matt Gibbon 18. Jermaine Ainsley 19. Adam Coleman 20. Richard Hardwick 21. Rob Leota 22. Michael Ruru 23. Reece Hodge
Starters: 1. Daniel Lienert-Brown 2. Ash Dixon (c) 3. Siate Tokolahi 4. Jackson Hemopo 5. Pari Pari Parkinson 6. Shannon Frizell 7. James Lentjes 8. Elliot Dixon 9. Kayne Hammington 10. Bryn Gatland 11. Josh McKay 12. Teihorangi Walden 13. Thomas Umaga-Jensen 14. Waisake Naholo 15. Josh Ioane
Finishers: 16. Ricky Jackson 17. Ayden Johnstone 18. Josh Iosefa-Scott 19. Tom Franklin 20. Marino Mikaele Tu’u 21. Folau Fakatava 22. Patelesio Tomkinson 23. Marty Banks
While the Highlanders may be resting many key players for this encounter, you underestimate Kiwi teams at your own peril. The Rebels need to approach this game like the Highlanders are at full strength else they will find themselves on the losing end. That said, with the return of Hodge and Coleman and this being on home soil, I feel the Rebels can right the wrongs of the last time these two teams met in Dunedin.
The Rebels sneaking in by an uncomfortable 6.
Welcome back, Mr. Hodge!
Date: Friday 01 March 2019
Venue: AAMI Park, Melbourne, Australia
Kick-off: 7.45 pm (AEDT)
Referee: AJ Jacobs
Touchies: Marius van der Westhuizen & Damon Murphy
TMO: Ian Smith