Tonight the Rebelution bid farewell to their AAMI Park abode for another year, facing the Reds in their last home game of 2012. The Queenslanders will be heavily backed to dispatch of the Victorians, but with a series of high-profile finales, including Australian rugby legend Stirling Mortlock, the Rebels have never had more to play for.
It’s been an emotional bye month for the southern capital, with each week marked by a different retirement or announcement that a player is moving on. In all, four of the Rebels will wave goodbye to Super Rugby on Australian soil: Mortlock, Al Campbell, Julian Huxley and Michael #lipdogg Lipman. Oddly enough, of the quartet, only Stirling will start the match, with Huxley and Campbell benched and Lipman not playing.
The Rebels’ form of late hasn’t been too bad. Apart from the Hurricanes debacle, which doesn’t count as I was in South Africa, they’ve scored a big win against the Crusaders, a tight win against the Force, ran the Bulls close and almost matched the conference-leading Brumbies in a dour match. The home side are unpredictable at best, and with the farewells, and 20,000 expected through the gates, the impetus for an upset is there.
The Reds, meanwhile, are on a surge. After suffering a doozy of a premiership hangover earlier in the year, they’ve made their run at the perfect time, with three wins on the trot and taking 18 points from the past four rounds. Despite this, the Reds still need to be shooting for bonus point wins in their last three matches to help secure a finals berth. With Quade Cooper signed on and back in action, the Queenslanders also have a heap to play for.
15. Kurtley Beale, 14. Mark Gerrard, 13. Mitch Inman, 12. Stirling Mortlock (c), 11. Cooper Vuna, 10. James O’Connor, 9. Nick Phipps, 8. Gareth Delve, 7. Hugh Perrett, 6. Tom Chamberlain, 5. Hugh Pyle, 4. Cadeyrne Neville, 3. Jono Owen, 2. Adam Freier, 1. Nic Henderson.
Stirling Mortlock is the only retiree to start, and even his presence in the team is in doubt after he re-injured his calf at training on Wednesday. Kurtley Beale will move to fullback, after being played into form in a Test match, which apparently is an OK thing to do. James O’Connor’s damaged liver has been given the all-clear, so he returns from possibly the most ironic injury in sporting history.
15. Luke Morahan, 14. Dom Shipperley, 13. Anthony Faingaa, 12. Mike Harris, 11. Digby Ioane, 10. Quade Cooper, 9. Will Genia (c), 8. Scott Higginbotham, 7. Liam Gill, 6. Jake Schatz, 5. Adam Wallace-Harrison, 4. Rob Simmons, 3. James Slipper, 2. Saia Faingaa, 1. Greg Holmes.
Sanchez dons the proverbial armband for the reigning champions this week, with James Horwill out for the rest of the season with a hamstring injury sustained in the national tour. Jake Schatz replaces Beau Robinson on the park, and Nick Frisby has an awesome name.
This will be the last match for season 2012 at AAMI Park, Melbourne. Kick-off is at 7.40pm, and FOXSports 3 and 3HD will have the broadcast.
These teams have played each other three times, the Reds saluting on all three occasions.
The last time they met was in Round 2 of this season. The Reds scraped a win against a gutsy Rebel outfit, 11-6, at Suncorp Stadium.
Keith Brown will have the honours in the middle of the ground, with Andrew Lees and Richard Goswell assisting and Matt Goddard watching the Foxtel.
Will Genia will decide this game. He was at his game-breaking best across the Welsh tour, including a ridiculous performance in the first Test. His form against the Rebels, though, has been lacklustre, and he was pressured out of the game by the Melbourne loose forwards in this year’s game at Suncorp. When Sanchez goes well, the Reds go well, and with a lot on the line for the visitors he needs to have a blinder.
The Rebels’ game-breaker is obvious — the heightened feeling of this match as a result of the farewells, most notably, for Stirling Mortlock. The Rebels do tend to rise to big occasions, and the significance of this match could allow the Victorians to pull a performance out of thin air. This could present issues in itself, though. While it will be an important occasion for the fans, the home team will need to realise that they still have two games left to play, in the Republic no less, and keep their feet flat on the ground. They cannot afford to carry needless injuries or suspensions into a road trip where they at least have a chance of winning a game.
The Reds should win this game comfortably. However, after a month off, who knows what could happen? The Rebels have four big reasons to get the win here, and should they salute after eighty minutes, their lofty goal of six wins for the year becomes a real possibility.
I think the Wallabies form of Genia, Simmons, Ioane and co. will be enough to deliver the Queenslanders a win. I think.
Reds by 6.
Which team do you think will win this evening? Will the Reds continue their march towards a title defence, or can the Rebels get the win for Stirling?