The Melbourne Rebels will look to consolidate their tenuous hold on top spot in the Australian Conference while the Blues will be wanting to inflict more pain to the already fragile Aussie psyche.
At a glance, you might expect the Rebels to be firm favourites to take this one out. It is after all 4th on the ladder versus 12th, the top ranked Australian team (I do love the sound of that), against the lowest ranked Kiwi team. However, a close look at their respective season’s statistics shows that these two teams are very evenly matched.
This match is the fifth time the two sides have clashed. The previous four games have been split, with two wins apiece, with the home team winning on each occasion. In 2016, the Rebels have five wins from eight games, the Blues four wins and a draw. Both sides had home wins against South African opponents in their last games.
Both teams are scoring an average of 22.9 points per game this season. Despite the Blues stronger attacking statistics, the Rebels have scored slightly more tries, while the Blues have been more successful from the kicking tee. Defensively, the Blues have let in 21 tries, the Rebels 22.
In the set piece, the Blues may have an advantage in the lineout but the scrums appear very evenly matched with both teams having a 93% success rate. Their percentage success rates at rucks (96%) and tackle completion (85%) are also identical. Even Green and Gold Rugby’s analysis has them in 12th and 13th positions in the Power Rankings table.
Let’s not talk about the pre-season trial game.
The Blues had a bye last week and, the morning after this game will depart for a tour that includes two matches in South Africa and one in Perth. They will be very keen to make a statement with a win at home before they leave.
George Moala returns to the team in time to replace the injured Rene Ranger. They may also welcome back Patrick Tuipulotu who has been tentatively named to start. It’s puzzling that Ofa Tu’ungafasi hasn’t been able to crack the starting side after his great start to the season and that Melani Nanai is struggling for even a spot on the bench.
In their recent game against the Sharks, the Blues regularly kicked for territory. I’m sure their game plan will be similar for the Rebels.
The Blues have struggled to win consecutive matches, the last time they managed to win twice in a row was near the end of the 2014 season.[/one_half]
Unfortunately, for the Rebels their injury woes continue with Laurie Weeks sustaining a hamstring injury during the week, he’ll be out until June. Apart from the forced omission of Weeks the Rebels side remains unchanged. Scoring five tries in the win against the Cheetahs last week will give the team some confidence to run the ball.
Rebels’ fans will be hoping to see Reece Hodge back up his solid performance in last week’s game and will be looking forward to further improvement from Sefa Naivalu as he gets back to speed after a long injury lay-off.
The Rebels have won three times away from home this year, the equal best of the Australian teams. Their record in N.Z. isn’t good though with only one win from ten attempts.[/one_half]
Key Match Ups
[one_third last=”no”]Ihaia West Vs Jack Debreczeni
In what is likely to be a tight game this could be the key match-up. Whichever of these two young fly-halfs has the better night directing their team may well determine the outcome of the match. As goal kickers, both of them are capable of hitting or missing shots from anywhere, although West has been more consistent than Debreczei. [/one_third]
[one_third last=”no”]Josh Bekhuis Vs Lopeti Timani
The clash of the titans. At 202cm, most people would regard Bekhuis as a rather tall chap while Timani is more your brute force kind of guy. Neither of them appears to be shy when it comes to contact. Boom. [/one_third]
[one_third last=”yes”]Steven Luatua Vs Adam Thomson
These two veteran All Black Number Eights provide a great deal of experience and leadership to their respective teams. Both played key roles in their side’s last wins and this clash will be no different.[/one_third]
Be careful around this Guy.
My head is telling me to back the Blues at home by less than a try but, my heart says “go you mighty Rebels”. Rebels by 5.
[one_half last=”no”]Auckland Blues
1. Sam Prattley
2. James Parsons (C)
3. Charlie Faumuin
4. Patrick Tuipulotu or Hoani Matenga
5. Josh Bekhuis
6. Jerome Kaino
7. Tanerau Latimer
8. Steven Luatua
9. Bryn Hall
10. Ihaia West
11. Tevita Li
12. Piers Francis
13. George Moala
14. Rieko Ioane
15. Lolagi Visinia
16. Quentin MacDonald
17. Nic Mayhew or Namatahi Waa
18. Ofa Tu’ungafasi
19. Akira Ioane
20. Kara Pryor
21. Billy Guyton
22. Matt McGahan
23. Melani Nanai or Matt Duffie[/one_half]
[one_half last=”yes”]Melbourne Rebels
1. Toby Smith
2. James Hanson
3. Jamie Hagan
4. Luke Jones
5. Lopeti Timani
6. Jordy Reid
7. Sean McMahon
8. Adam Thomson
9. Nic Stirzaker (C)
10. Jack Debreczeni
11. Sefa Naivalu
12. Tamati Ellison
13. Reece Hodge
14. Cam Crawford
15. Jonah Placid
16. Pat Leafa
17. Cruze Ah Nau
18. Tim Metcher
19. Sam Jeffries
20. Colby Fainga’a
21. Ben Meehan
22. Kotaro Matsushima
23. Sione Tuipoluto.[/one_half]
Date: Saturday, 30th April
Time: 5:15pm (local), 3:15pm (AEST)
Venue: Eden Park, Auckland
Referee: Craig Joubert
AR: Glen Jackson, Brett Johnson
TMO: Ben Skeen
Weather Forecast: Partly cloudy, 21-13 degrees
Statistics courtesy of Opta Sports