Preview: Highlanders v Rebels - Green and Gold Rugby
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Preview: Highlanders v Rebels

Preview: Highlanders v Rebels

Well, it all comes down to this.

The Highlanders host the Melbourne Rebels in what’s billed a pivotal match in the Rebels brief history. Never has the Rebels come this close to a spot in the finals. As a devoted fan, I feel our time to play finals ins now. Like a kid on Christmas Eve, I’m all excited.

The equation is simple here; win, and they make it into their first ever finals series. Lose, and the Rebels will rely on the Jaguars rolling the Sharks. Depending on results, they could go as high as seventh, which may set up a final against the Waratahs. The likely scenario, if the Rebels make it, is a trip to Christchurch.

Form

After a brilliant win against the Hurricanes, the Highlanders have lost the last two on the trot, both a 45-22 scoreline to the Chiefs and Crusaders. It doesn’t affect their place in the finals series, but another loss will dictate who they play. It’s certainly not good for when you have no winning momentum going into a finals series.

Taniela Tupou is happy with his performance

Tongan Thor destroyed a few Rebels last weekend.

The Rebels gave away a perfect opportunity to secure a finals berth, losing to the Reds 37-23. They were monstered in the pack, and spent too much time trying to run around a strong Reds defence. They missed a golden opportunity to attack the midfield, especially with Paia’aua in the sin-bin. In the end, the mistakes piled up, and nothing to show on the scoreboard.

Team

The Highlanders will rest six key players for the Rebels clash. The All Black trio of Aaron Smith, Ben Smith, and Luke Whitelock will sit their second mandatory rest week. Coach Aaron Mauger will also rest Elliot Dixon, Ash Dixon, and Rob Thomson. There is still plenty of firepower in the team, with Naholo, Squire, and Coltman all starting.

The game will be a lot quieter without Aaron Smith on the field.

In a team of virtual unknown, Flanker James Lentjes will captain the side.  The game is likely to be the last for Lima Sopoaga in Dunedin, as he heads off to England next season.

The Rebels were initially hopeful that Adam Coleman and Will Genia might be available, however they will sit out this week. Dane Haylett-Petty (knee) and Geoff Parling (shoulder) are both victims of the Reds match, replaced in the starting team by Sefa Naivalu and Ross Haylett-Petty.

Adam will spend another week scrumming against the post pads.

Ferti Sa’aga and Sam Talakai will start in the front row, with Faulkner and Ainsley moving to the pine.
With both teams missing their big guns, the match-ups are evenly poised.

Key match-ups

What battles should we keep an eye on?

Sopoaga vs Rebels defence

Lima is key to for the Highlanders. If he plays well, the Highlanders will win. If he falters, the Rebels area strong chance. His boot could also prove the difference; too many penalties, and he will punish us on the scoreboard. Look for Cottrell and Timani (when he gets a run) to target him.

Naholo vs Koroibete

Yet another installment of the Festival of Flying Fijians (FOFF), we see the barnstorming Naholo take on the defensive might of Koroibete. Naholo isn’t an easy man to stop, and many defenders have found out, but Koroibete has proved to be an unmovable force. Just look at what he did in the first test; the Irish won’t forget him in a hurry.

Koroibete – tackling machine.

When he’s not breaking bodies in half with his tackling, his blistering speed is carving up defences.  With ball in hand, he will find the line.  The Highlanders must keen a close eye on him.

Lomax v Sa’aga

It’s the battle of the (former) Rebel brothers; Tyrell Lomax will face off against his old front-row partner, Fereti Sa’aga. No doubt they both know each other scrum tricks, so I expect a ripping battle at scrum time. Fereti has earned back his starting place, after shoring up the Scum last week against the Reds.

 Tyrel Lomax – in action for the Highlanders.

I’m hoping that Fereti’s mobility might give him the edge, but I’d never write-off Tyrell.  He’s made of habit of scoring tries in his last two outings.

Fearless Prediction

OK, I’ll put it out there. My prediction will not be based in fact, just blind supporter faith.

Yes, the Rebels have a very tough assignment, and they have a lot to lose. But remember, they had virtually nothing at the start of 2018. David and his crew have built this team into finals contenders. He’s given them the belief, and has honed the skills into (near) unstoppable. Now, they have to take the opportunity, and beat the Highlanders.

Basic premise; shut down Sopoaga, and you can shut down the Highlanders. Their pack in reasonable, but I believe the Rebels have a better one. I expect them to use the pack to gain territory, mixed with some bash-and-crash creativity in the midfield, then Hodge will unleash the Fijians out wide. If the Rebels score early, then hold their composure, then we will make the finals.

Rebels by 3.

Match Details

Rebels

1. Fereti Sa’aga

2. Anaru Rangi

3. Sam Talakai

4. Matt Philip

5. Ross Haylett-Petty

6. Angus Cottrell

7. Colby Fainga’a

8. Amanaki Mafi

9. Michael Ruru

10. Reece Hodge

11. Marika Koroibete

12. Billy Meakes

13. Tom English (capt.)

14. Sefa Naivalu

15. Jack Maddocks

Reserves

16. Nathan Charles

17. Tetera Faulkner

18. Jermaine Ainsley

19. Sam Jeffries

20. Richard Hardwick

21. Harrison Goddard

22. Jack Debreczeni

23. Lopeti Timani

Highlanders

1. Aki Seuili

2. Liam Coltman

3. Tyrel Lomax

4. Alex Ainley

5. Jackson Hemopo

6. Shannon Frizell

7. James Lentjes (C)

8. Liam Squire

9. Kayne Hammington

10. Lima Sopoaga

11. Tevita Li

12. Teihorangi Walden

13. Thomas Umaga-Jensen

14. Waisake Naholo

15. Josh Ioane

Reserves

16. Greg Pleasants-Tate

17. Daniel Lienert-Brown

18. Kalolo Tuiloma

19. Tom Franklin

20. Dillon Hunt

21. Josh Renton

22. Matt Faddes

23. Josh McKay

Details

Date: July 14, 2018

Venue: Forsyth Barr

Kick-off: 3:15 PM (AEST)

Referee: Glenn Jackson

AR1: Ben Williams

AR2: Brendon Pickerill

TMO: Chris Hart

  • Hoss

    “faith is believing what you know aint so’

    • 2bluesfan

      Oh Hoss, a touch unkind [I can say this as a Two Blues supporter who has tipped them to win by 1 in every Shute Shield match this year :) ] Where would we be without faith? :)

      You’re probably right though.

  • 2bluesfan

    Lentjes is a very handy flanker.

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