The Melbourne Rebels are looking to break their 10-game drought in South Africa with a win over the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria this Saturday.
The Rebels had their first win against the Bulls from South Africa in 2015 at AAMI Park. Some (read “Bulls fans”) say the Rebels were lucky to get the close 21-20 win, due to a controversial no-try call against the Bulls that denied them the win, but the records say otherwise and it currently stands at 3-1 to the men from Pretoria. After starting off their 2016 campaign with a 6-point victory over the Western Force in Round 1, the Rebels will be looking to continue this winning streak(!), but an early injury crisis might derail those plans.
The Bulls started off their 2016 season at Newlands Stadium in Cape town with a disappointing 33-9 loss to the Stormers. They will be wanting to reverse their fortunes this week with a side head coach Nollis Marais has made only one forced change to.
Adriaan Strauss v James Hanson (The Hookers). The Chris Farley of the Bulls (though less dead), has a wealth of experience and Super Rugby caps, which he will need in leading around this fairly young Bulls team. James Hanson, in his second outing for the Rebels will be looking to cement his starting place in the Melbourne scrum, so the battle at line-out and scrum time will be worth watching.
Warrick Gelant v Reece Hodge (The Fullbacks). Reece Hodge had a debut to remember last week v the Force, bagging 20 of the Rebels 25 points, including 2 tries. How Hodge will go during the difficult 2nd album will be interesting, he sliced through the Western Force defenses, but can he do the same against the likes of Gelant? What will be interesting to see is how much his already mighty boot will be assisted by the altitude at Loftus Versfeld (“where the air is rarefied…”) – they may have to send the ball kids out to the car park to retrieve lost balls.
SHOULD I STAY UP PAST MY BEDTIME?
Sure, it’s Super Rugby and the season goes by so quickly, get as much of it while you can, I say. This is the interesting time of the season when you get a feel for how teams will fare… even if you do have to get up at 5.30 for the annual corporate triathlon…
Tony McGahan’s boys have been hit hard by injury early on in the season, with Rebels fullback Mike Harris and flanker Colby Fainga’a returning to Melbourne after sustaining injury during the heated (temperature, that is) match against the Western Force in Round 1.
Newly-appointed captain, Nic Stirzaker is still recovering from shoulder reconstruction surgery during the off-season and is another 1 to 2 weeks off returning, while flyhalf Jack Debreczeni, who missed the Force game due to illness is expected to lace up the boots for the clash with the Bulls. Steve Cummins comes into the starting 15 at lock. Lopeti Timpani moves to No. 8 and Adam Thompson to blindside flanker. Jordy Reid drops back to the bench.
The Bulls have been forced into making one change for their clash against the Rebels. An injury (concussion) to Jesse Kriel will see Burger Odendaal start in the midfield at inside centre and Jan Serfontein at outside centre. This enforced change will also see Dries Swanepoel move onto the bench as a replacement for Odendaal. The Bulls are also without their star flyhalf Handre Pollard, who is out for up to 9 months after rupturing knee ligaments during training in February.
1. Trevor Nyakane 2. Adriaan Strauss (c) 3. Marcel van der Merwe 4. RG Snyman 5. Grant Hattingh 6. Nic de Jager 7. Jannes Kirsten 8. Arno Botha 9. Rudy Paige 10. Francois Brummer 11. Bjorn Basson 12. Burger Odendaal 13. Jan Serfontein 14.Travis Ismaiel 15. Warrick Gelant
16. Jaco Visagie 17. Lizo Gqoboka 18. Hencus van Wyk 19. Jason Jenkins 20. Roelof Smit 21. Piet van Syl 22. Tian Schoeman 23. Dries Swanepoel
1. Toby Smith 2. James Hanson 3. Laurie Weeks 4. Luke Jones 5. Steve Cummins 6. Adam Thomson 7. Sean McMahon (c) 8. Lopeti Timpani 9. Ben Meehan 10. Jack Debreczeni 11. Tom English 12. Mitch Inman 13. Tamati Ellison 14. Dom Shipperley 15. Reece Hodge
16. Pat Leafa 17. Cruze Ah Nau 18. Jamie Hagan 19. Sam Jeffries 20. Jordy Reid 21. Mick Snowden 22. Jonah Placid 23. Dan Hawkins
With the new 18-team Super Rugby competition, the Rebels will only get one chance in 2016 to bag their first win in South Africa. The boys from Melbourne took a beating in getting the win over the Force last weekend and the extreme heat would not have helped. Add to that injuries to Mike Harris, Colby Fainga’a and Nic Stirzaker still out of the mix, this may be a bridge too far. After a 33-9 loss to the Stormers at Newlands in Round 1, the Bulls will be looking to redeem themselves in front of their fans at home.
My heart is hopeful however, I feel the Rebels will be waiting another year to get this elusive first.
Bulls to win by 8
Date: Sunday 6 March 2016
Venue: Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
Kick-off: 12:00 am (AEDT)
Referee: Ben O’Keeffe
Assistant Referees: Mike Fraser and Stuart Berry
TMO: Marius Jonker