The Melbourne Rebels host the ACT Brumbies at AAMI Park in Round Four of Super Rugby 2019.
It’s early in the season, but both teams are already shaping as finals contenders. Both the Rebels and Brumbies have enjoyed victory both at home and against Kiwi opposition. Considering our recent track record against Kiwi sides, that’s not a bad start to the season. This game is a perfect opportunity to set the pace in the Australian conference. Who wants it more?
The Rebels sit atop the Australian conference on two wins, with the Brumbies not far behind them. The teams met in round one, with the Rebels defeating the Brumbies 34-27. After a badly-timed bye round, the Rebels prevailed in a close match against the Highlanders, winning by five points. Most pundits believed the Rebels should have won by more, but I’d never write off the Highlanders that easily.
The Brumbies recovered from their round one loss to thump the hapless Waikato Chiefs 54-17, which marked the first time an Australian team put over 50 points on a Kiwi side since….well probably when I last had hair. A week is a long time in Rugby, as the Brumbies discovered over in Palmerston North, losing to the Hurricanes 43-13. That loss will hurt the Brumbies, so they will look to make a point at the Stockade.
The Melbourne Rebels have made a number of changes to the starting forward pack. Matt Gibbon, Robbie Abel, Adam Coleman, and Rob Leota all starting against the Brumbies. Ross Haylett-Perry comes onto the bench, and Angus Cottrell rotates out of the matchday 23. It’s a big change in the pack, with an almost new attacking (left) side in the Scrum, and a debutant at loosehead prop. The Rebels have once again opted for a 6-2 bench split, signalling their intent to take on the Brumbies pack. The backline remains unchanged.
Adam Coleman – a welcome return to the Rebels starting side
The Brumbies have sprung a few surprises of their own, making five changes to the team belted by the Hurricanes. Former NRL player Tom Wright gets his first chance at 12, and Henry Speight returns to the wing, relegating Chance Peni to the bench. In the pack Valentini, Carter, and Cusack move into the starting side.
Rebels (15-1): Dane Haylett-Petty (c), Jack Maddocks, Tom English, Billy Meakes, Marika Koroibete, Quade Cooper, Will Genia, Isi Naisarani, Brad Wilkin, Rob Leota, Matt Philip, Adam Coleman, Sam Talakai, Robbie Abel, Matt Gibbon
Reserves: Anaru Rangi, Tetera Faulkner, Jermaine Ainsley, Luke Jones, Ross Haylett-Petty, Richard Hardwick, Michael Ruru, Reece Hodge
Brumbies (15-1): Tom Banks, Henry Speight, Tevita Kuridrani, Tom Wright, Andy Muirhead, Christian Lealiifano (c), Joe Powell, Tom Cusack, David Pocock, Rob Valetini, Sam Carter, Rory Arnold, Allan Alaalatoa, Folau Fainga’a, Scott Sio
Reserves: Josh Mann-Rea, James Slipper, Leslie Leuluiaalii-Makin, Murray Douglas, Pete Samu, Ryan Lonergan, Wharenui Hawera, Chance Peni
Who should we keep an eye on this week?
This is an area the Brumbies must dominate if they want to stamp their authority on the game. They have an all-wallaby front row combination in Sio, Faainga’a and Alaalatoa, who are used to destroying opposition packs.
The Brumbies pack have been used to destroying scrums for years.
They come against a relatively green combination of Gibbon, Abel, and Talakai. The Rebels pack did well against the Highlanders, but the Brumbies will be a much bigger challenge. The Rebels will need to hold the second shunt and maintain the shape, as they won’t be able to out-muscle the Brumbies. One sniff of front-row dominance and the Brumbies will win Scrum penalties all night long.
DHP vs Banks
The five-star Captain, versus the young gun speedster. The battle is really over who should be wearing the Wallaby 15 jersey, as opposed to a certain high-flying Waratah player.
Tom Banks – speed machine
Banks and DHP are worthy contenders for the role; Banks has some blistering speed and a monster boot, where Dane seems the more composed player, especially under the high ball. Both are gifted fullbacks, but DHP has a slight edge in game management.
A great battle looms.
Back row battle?
A traditional strong point of the Brumbies. With Pocock, Valetini and Cusack, you would normally pick them to dominate the back row battle. Pocock was sorely missed in the round one clash, and he will look to assert his dominance at the breakdown.
Rob Leota – home-grown Victorian, keen to get stuck in.
The Brumbies will be challenged by a new Rebels back row combination of Leota, Wilkin, and Nasarini. Wilkin has been a tireless ruck pest against the Highlanders, and Leota is looking sharp after a long injury lay-off. For me, Nasarini is the key to winning the back row battle. Whilst not an attaching machine like Mafi, his defence work is top-notch. After a few games finding his feet, I feel he about to unleash his attack prowess, hopefully with a try.
This is the perfect contest of strengths; a battle of a strong forwards pack (Brumbies), versus a star-studded backline (Rebels).
The Brumbies will be out for revenge against their southern cousins, but I think they will be sorely disappointed.
While the Brumbies pack is formidable, I rate the Revels backline to get the job done. The 6-2 Rebels bench, including players such as Richard Hardwick and Luke Jones, has the depth to more than match the Brumbies pack.
Rebels by 5.
I always love writing a Rebels v Brumbies preview because I have an excellent reason to post this clip. The first ever Rebels win in Super Rugby, against the Ponies. Enjoy.