After making team changes galore following their first game of the season, the Rebels have named the same run-on XV they used against the Brumbies last weekend. Coach Rod Macqueen has rewarded his players, deservedly, for their ability to stick to a game plan devised to provide the team’s first Super win.
On the flip side, following back-to-back losses, the Chiefs have changed a third of their starting side. Into the XV come Ben May, Brendan Leonard, Stephen Donald and Tana Umaga – all of whom were dropped after the first-round loss to the Brumbies. I guess their replacements were just as dismal, as the Chiefs suffered a second-round loss to the Highlanders.
The challenge for the Rebels, in their first away game of the season, will be to match the physicality they showed against the Brumbies last week. The challenge for the Chiefs will be to provide the space for their lightning back three to weave their magic. The challenge for both teams will be to get the ball!
As Scott Allen’s stats show, the Rebels and Chiefs are current cellar dwellers in terms of the amount of possession they have had per game, with 41 per cent. It leads me to conclude that in this game we may at times see players from both teams standing around and just watching the ball to make up that elusive 18 per cent! The lack of ball for each team obviously means they’ve had to do a lot of defending. Naturally enough, they are both leading the league in line breaks conceded.
In the end the game comes down to scoring points and the Chiefs have showed more potential here than the Rebels. The Hamiltronians have made 25 line breaks this season, second only to the Brumbies (surprisingly). Comparatively, the Rebels have made six (equal-worst, with the Reds).
A glance through that Chiefs outfit sees a great deal of skill and speed, particularly in the outside backs and back row. The Rebels still look a team short of class. It will be tough for the Rebels to back up from the euphoria surrounding their first win last week, in lonely little Hamilton, without the vocal support of their Rebel Army.
Conversely, the Chiefs will be targeting this game as the one to get their season back on the rails. The team running out for them this weekend definitely seems their strongest of the year. The key will be precision in finishing because when a team as talented as the Chiefs is making 25 line breaks but only scoring four tries, it won’t be long before those opportunities begin to be taken and the points begin to flow!
The teams are:
Rebels: 15 Mark Gerrard, 14 Lachlan Mitchell, 13 Stirling Mortlock[c], 12 Julian Huxley, 11 Cooper Vuna, 10 Danny Cipriani, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Gareth Delve, 7 Michael Lipman, 6 Jarrod Saffy, 5 Kevin O’Neill, 4 Adam Byrnes, 3 Greg Somerville, 2 Ged Robinson, 1 Nic Henderson. 16 Heath Tessman, 17 Laurie Weeks, 18 Alister Campbell, 19 Tom Chamberlain, 20 Richard Kingi, 21 Afusipa Taumoepeau, 22 Peter Betham.
Chiefs: 15 Mils Muliaina [c], 14 Lelia Masaga, 13 Dwayne Sweeney, 12 Tana Umaga, 11 Sitiveni Sivivatu, 10 Stephen Donald, 9 Brendon Leonard, 8 Liam Messam, 7 Tanerau Latimer, 6 Scott Waldrom, 5 Isaac Ross, 4 Craig Clarke, 3 Nathan White, 2 Aled de Malmanche, 1 Ben May. Reserves: 16 Hika Elliot, 17 Sona Taumalolo, 18 Romana Graham, 19 Steven Setephano, 20 Taniela Moa, 21 Mike Delany, 22 Tim Nanai-Williams.
Players to watch: How classy was the performance of Mark Gerrard last weekend? Waltzing back into Super Rugby and controlling the game for the Rebels from the back so assuredly. He will be needed to replicate his performance again against the Chiefs as the Rebs are sure to encounter a wet and windy Waikato Stadium. While kicking will be his go-to, precision will be key to minimise counter-attack opportunities to Muliaina, Masaga and Sivivatu.
For the Chiefs, make sure you keep an eye on former All Black captain Tana Umaga, because I suspect we won’t get to see him much longer. There will be younger guys running out in next week’s Wallaby Classics v. All Black Classics game in Brisbane. How he copes with whippersnappers Mortlock and Huxley will go some way to determining just how soon his retirement party is.
Key Match-up: The wings are an obvious place to look, if only to observe how Mitchell and Vuna handle Masaga and Sivi. But the real battle to watch is up front in the No. 7 jerseys. Michael Lipman has, in my eyes, been the best of the Rebels so far this season and brings a confrontational approach to the game that has really caught the eye. Meanwhile, Tanerau Latimer has been a stand-out performer for a disappointing Chiefs team thus far. Despite being a former Sevens star, he is one of the more clinical and accurate fetchers at the breakdown and forms a dangerous combo alongside Messam and Waldrom.
My Tip: I think this will be a tough little road trip for the Rebels and a real eye-opener to life on the road in Super Rugby. Chiefs by 5.
Date: Saturday 5 March
Kick-off: 19:35 local
Referee: Vinny Munro
Assistant Refs : Shane McDermott, Garratt Williamson