Will the return of Super Sefa spark the Rebels?
After conceding 71 points to the Hurricanes, and 56 to the Blues, the Rebels had a week rest to learn some kiwi lessons. Resident New Zealanders Jackson Garden-Bachop and Cullum Retallick burned the midnight oil to teach the guys how to say fush and chups, but this doesn’t seem to work.
Jokes aside, the situation in Melbourne is not the calmest, to say the least.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last few weeks, SANZAAR is conducting a strategic review of the super 18 competition. One consideration is the number of teams in the competition, with a possible reduction from 18 to 15 sides. If the reports are true, an Australian team could be extinct by the end of this season.
Despite a solid financial status, and private ownership, there are rumours the axe swings dangerously over the Rebels. This can’t be an east time for the players, but we as fans can help. The Rebels supporters must make a statement tomorrow: if they show up in numbers, despite the half empty glass mood, they may help themselves to continue to enjoy top quality rugby in the world’s most livable city.
- Rebels 18 – Blues 56
- Highlanders 15 – Chiefs 24
- Chiefs 41 – Blues 26
- Hurricanes 71 – Rebels 6
- Chiefs 26 – Hurricanes 18
- Rebels wounds licking
The Rebels have been plagued by injuries and the common errors of the previous seasons, giving away too much possession, and disappearing from the pitch in the second half.
The Chiefs are in the fortunate position to look from above the rest of the competition and they have demonstrated strength in every department. If they are not the competition benchmark, they are terribly close to it. They have won all their three games, notably beating the two teams that trashed the Rebels.
Tony McGahan must be pulling his hair out; Sean McMahon remains in team rehab and is joined this week by Lopeti Timani (knee). If you include Smith, Day, Jeffreies, there is a quote a sizable talent pool that cannot play.
In some rare good news, the Rebels welcomes back Wallaby Super Sefa Naivalu. He will reunite with childhood friend, Marika Koroibete, to give the backline some much-needed speed on the wings. May the Fijians fly high!
Also returning from injuries the last foundation player at the Rebels, and the People’s champ, Laurie Weeks. The prop will combine with run-on debutant local talent Fereti Sa’aga.
In his first run game of the season, Culum Retallick will square up against his more celebrated cousin Brodie.
McGahan has chosen to stick with flyhalf Garden-Bachop despite the less than impressive effot in his first two outings. Jack Debreczei, who occupied the number 10 jersey in 2016, remains at fullback.
Dumper McGahan, hard at work.
The Chiefs are rotating a lot of players for this match, after the first three brutal encounters of the season, for a game that they clearly see as an easier task. All Blacks flyhalf Aaron Cruden will start from the bench, with the smiling Damian McKenzie starting at 10. This will probably be a preview of next year’s Chiefs when Cruden will migrate to the rich pastures of Top14.
Damian McKenzie – the smiling assassin.
The main attraction of the Chiefs will be inside centre, with cult hero Stephen the Beaver Donald earning a start. He was impressive off the bench last week against the Hurricanes and will look to further push his claim for the number 12 jersey.
In the backs, James Lowe and Tim Nanai-Williams are both forced out through injury. Solomon Alaimalo will make his Super Rugby debut, while fellow youngster Shaun Stevenson will start at fullback
With Michael Leitch sidelined for one week for his high tackle against the Hurricanes, veteran Liam Messam will pack at number 8 for the Chiefs.
Another first gamer for the Chiefs will be hooker Sabastian Siataga.
The Rebels will have to fight hard to compete in every aspect of the game, the Chiefs are clearly superior and should not have problems to earn the 5 points.
But each game has to be taken into isolation; if the Rebels side can engage their defensive mechanisms, and contain their powerful opponents, their wingers can match in speed and danger level the Chiefs.
Despite having 3 tough games in a row versus two, the Chiefs have made plenty of changes to match the Rebels fitness. They can unleash great power from the bench and close out the game in the second half, to emulate the Blues and the Hurricanes.
So, where are the key battles for the match?
Let’s start with a great truism that will make my old coach happy; “every game is won in the set pieces, get them right and you will have the right platform to attack the opponents. Miss them and you will give away tactical advantage and possession”.
The Chiefs have better scrum and lineout than the Rebels, executing these two set pieces at perfection is a must do for the Melbournians.
Maybe Culum will have some tricks up his sleeve to contain his cousin Brodie, the Rebels’ faithful hope.
Culum and Brodie – neither one takes a backwards step.
Garden-Bachop vs McKenzie
The brains of the two teams will dictate the game’s tempo. The Chiefs’ number 10 has more experience at Super Rugby level, however, he may be distracted by the task to keep Cruden off the field the longest time possible. GB on the other side cannot fail again, otherwise Debreczeni will return back to his old position.
Koroibete-Naival vs Alaimalo-Pulu
The 100 meters olympic medal is gone, but each of the four wingers has enough speed to compete for a podium in the Commonwealth games. It will be interesting to see which of them will have more meters on his tally at the end of the match.
The Rebels have to seize the day and take their chances against the undermanned Chiefs, they need to play 80 minutes (see coach, I remember all your invaluable wisdom) and execute at the perfection the set pieces, only in this case they may get a win.
But rationally it should be an easy run for the Chiefs, the Rebels will be a contest only for half of the game and the Waikato men will take off in the second half and take the win with a bonus point.
Chiefs by 18
1. Fereti Sa’aga
2. James Hanson
3. Laurie Weeks
4. Culum Retallick
5. Steve Cummins
6. Jordy Reid
7. Colby Fainga’a
8. Amanaki Mafi
9. Nic Stirzaker (Captain)
10. Jackson Garden-Bachop
11. Marika Koroibete
12. Reece Hodge
13. Tom English
14. Sefa Naivalu
15. Jack Debreczeni
16. Pat Leafa
17. Cruze Ah-Nau
18. Tyrel Lomax
19. Murray Douglas
20. Jake Schatz
21. Ben Meehan
22. Sione Tuipulotu
23. Ben Volavola
1. Kane Hames
2. Sabastian Siataga
3. Nepo Laulala
4. Dominic Bird
5. Brodie Retallick
6. Tom Sanders
7. Sam Cane (c)
8. Liam Messam
9. Tawera Kerr-Barlow
10. Damian McKenzie
11. Solomon Alaimalo
12. Stephen Donald
13. Anton Lienert-Brown
14. Toni Pulu
15. Shaun Stevenson
16. Hika Elliot
17. Siegfried Fisi’ihoi
18. Atu Moli
19. Mitchell Brown
20. Mitchell Karpik
21. Finlay Christie
22. Aaron Cruden
23. Johnny Faauli
Date: Friday, March 17
Venue: AAMI Stadium, Melbourne
Kick-off: 19:45 AEDT
Referee: Federico Alselmi (Arg)
Rohan Hoffman (Aus), Graham Cooper (Aus)
TMO: Damien Mitchel-More (Aus)