The resumption of Super Rugby on Friday brings with it a top of the (Australian) table clash between the Rebels and Waratahs.
The Waratahs are only one point ahead of the Rebels but sit in third spot of the overall table by virtue of the fact they are on top of the conference compared to the Rebels in eighth spot.
Importance of match
Given the significance of the match this in my opinion is the most important match in Melbourne Rebels history. The only other match that could rival it, in the lead up to the match, is the Rebels’ first game also against the Waratahs at AAMI Park. Hopefully for the Rebels, the result for this match is considerably different to the 43 – nil win by the Waratahs that night.
Even if the Rebels win this game it will not guarantee them top spot on the Australian conference as the Waratahs final two matches at home against the Sunwolves and the Brumbies on paper appear easier than the Rebels’ away matches to the Reds and Highlanders. Whilst a win by the Rebels may not guarantee top spot in the conference, with a six-point break to the 9th placed Sharks it will move them ever so closer to a finals spot.
Both teams have seven wins this season with the Waratahs also registering a draw early in the season against the Sharks at Kings Park in Durban.
Test Casualty Ward
There were numerous Rebels and Waratahs involved in the test window, predominantly for the Wallabies. Unfortunately, not all players reached the end of the test window unscathed. Melbourne Rebels captain Adam Coleman suffered an abductor strain in the third test v Ireland and the Rebels’ spiritual leader Will Genia broke his arm in the second test.
Speaking of captains and spiritual leaders Michael Hooper fits into both categories, will also be missing because of a hamstring injury suffered in the third test. On Wednesday Israel Folau was suspended for making contact with Peter O’Mahony in the air during the third test. This suspension is likely to be subject to an appeal. Personally I don’t think he should have received a suspension for the contest in the air. However, the Rebel blood running through my veins and heart would be more than happy for Folau to have a one week holiday. Bryce Hegarty would come off the bench to start at fullback if Folau is unsuccessful with his appeal.
Players to Watch
So, who should we keep our eye on?
Haylett-Petty has had an interrupted season with injury but played the three tests against Ireland. Haylett-Petty brings composure, experience and poise to the Rebels backline. He is solid under the high ball and there is minimal difference between his best and worst performances.
Geoff Parling replaces Adam Coleman at Lock and is vice-captain for the match. Parling has 29 tests for England and 3 tests for the British and Irish Lions under his belt. His experience around the field will be invaluable for the Rebels and watch for Parling at line out time.
English is the leading try scorer in Super Rugby history for the Rebels with 17 tries (one ahead of Reece Hodge and Sefanaia Naivalu). He has the privilege of captaining the Rebels tonight. The output of English’s midfield combination with Billy Meakes, in both attack and defence will be of vital importance to the Rebels.
Foley is a key component in most of the Waratahs attack. His passing game is of great importance for the Waratahs getting on the front foot and over the advantage line. If it is a close game his goal kicking may also be key. Foley is also captaining his team in this match. Foley has somewhat unfairly received some criticism for his performances for both the Wallabies and Waratahs in the past. However, he is the best number ten in Australia by the length of the Flemington straight. (I will grant you it isn’t a Melbourne Cup field but that is not Foley’s fault).
Kurtley Beale has speed, footwork and x factor. He can make something out of nothing. He has enjoyed playing against his former team the Rebels throughout the years, even before he joined the Rebels. He has scored 4 tries in 7 games against the Rebels. The Rebels defence will have to be completely organised and fully switched on to counter Beale’s attacking prowess.
Has the unenviable task of replacing injured skipper Michael Hooper in the number seven. Whilst it is near impossible to replace Hooper, Miller is known for his work ethic in defence and at the breakdown. Miller is a player I enjoy watching ply his trade as he gives 100 percent and throws himself at the contest.
Funnily enough Miller made his Super Rugby debut for the Rebels in Durban last season versus the Sharks, he made his Waratahs debut in March in Durban against the Sharks and both matches ended in a draw.
Is History a Precursor of the Future?
In two of the last three matches between these two sides the Rebels have flown out of the blocks but have been run down by the Waratahs. The last time the two sides met at AAMI Park the Rebels led 25 to 6 at half time but were outscored 26 to nil in the second half as David Horwitz scored on the siren to pinch the win for the Tahs.
The Rebels are a vastly different outfit than they were last year. Although, particularly early in this season the Rebels started a number of matches well but were unable to finish the matches in the second half.
I expect the Rebels to start the match well, but the Waratahs will not go away. It will be competitive for most, if not all the match. With a little bit more class, composure and x factor in the Waratahs team I am predicting that the Tahs will send the local fans, who at the start of the night will be full of anticipation and hope, home disappointed. Waratahs by 10 points
Match: Rebels v Waratahs @ AAMI Park, Melbourne
Date: Friday 29 June
Kick-off: 19:45 local
Referee: Nic Berry
AR1: Graham Cooper
AR2: Jordan Way
TMO: Damien Mitchelmore
1. Ben Daley, 2. Anaru Rangi, 3. Sam Talakai, 4. Matt Philip, 5. Geoff Parling (v/c), 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 (captain), 14. Jack Maddocks, 15. Dane Haylett-Petty Reserves: 16. Nathan Charles, 17. Fereti Sa’aga, 18. Jermaine Ainsley, 19. Ross Haylett-Petty, 20. Lopeti Timani, 21. Harrison Goddard, 22. Jack Debreczeni, 23. Sefanaia Naivalu
1. Tom Robertson, 2. Damien Fitzpatrick, 3. Sekope Kepu, 4. Jed Holloway, 5. Rob Simmons (v/c), 6. Ned Hanigan, 7. Will Miller, 8. Michael Wells, 9. Nick Phipps, 10. Bernard Foley (captain), 11. Taqele Naiyaravoro, 12. Kurtley Beale, 13. Curtis Rona, 14. Cam Clark, 15. Israel Folau * Reserves: 16. Tolu Latu, 17. Harry Johnson-Holmes, 18. Paddy Ryan, 19. Tom Staniforth, 20. Brad Wilkin, 21. Jake Gordon, 22. Bryce Hegarty, 23. Alex Newsome
* Subject to successful judiciary appeal