Melbourne Rebels

Preview: Highlanders vs Melbourne Rebels

Preview: Highlanders vs Melbourne Rebels

This week, the Melbourne Rebels travel across the ditch to Dunedin, to take on the Otago Highlanders at the Forsyth Barr reserve.

This will be a battle between two desperate teams, both coming off loses, both with points to prove.


A Rebels win in 2019

The Highlanders have shown us some mixed results in 2020. After an opening round bye they were thrashed at home by the Sharks 20-42. In Round Three they beat the Brumbies in the little town of Canberra, in a nail-biter 23-22, courtesy of an extra-time try. Their 13-33 loss against the Crusaders last week doesn’t look good on paper but, a couple of the Crusaders’ four first half trys came against the run of play. The second half was much more even with one try apiece with the Crusaders doing well to hold the Highlanders out.

The Rebels will need to play out the full eighty minutes as the ‘Landers have the capacity to finish strongly.

The Highlanders have not lost to an Australian side in Dunedin since they were beaten by the Western Force in 2014. That is twelve straight home wins against Aussie opposition. They have beaten the Rebels on all four occassions when the two sides have met in New Zealand.

They are currently last in the New Zealand conference and are 12th overall with a points differential of -41.

Highlanders ended the Rebels finals chance in 2018

The Melbourne Rebels only competition points this season have come against the hapless Waratahs. The only team yet to register a single point.

Last week, in Ballarat against the heavily favoured Sharks, the Rebels put in what was probably their best game of the season; albeit, a game they lost 24-36. The Sharks may have been a little fortunate being awarded two controversial trys but a length of the field five-pointer to Curwin Bosch sealed the game.

The last time the Rebels travelled to Dunedin was in 2018. The Highlanders won that game 43-37 and ended the Rebels chances of playing finals that year. The return match, at AAMI Park in 2019, saw the Rebels take the win 24-19.

The Rebels are currently 3rd in the Australian Conference and 11th overall.


The Highlander set piece has struggled this season

The Rebels have been hit with a number of injuries limiting Dave Wessels selection options. He has made minimal changes to the team that lost to the Sharks last week. Despite Andrew Deegan’s solid first start, Matt To’omua will return to the fly-half role. Gideon Koegelenburg has earned his starting debut, replacing Ross Haylett-Petty in the second row, and Angus Cotterell moves to the blindside flank.

Having recovered from a hamstring injury, Wallaby hooker Jordan Uelese will make his long-awaited return via the reserve bench. Ruan Smith was a late withdrawl from the team last week and remains sidelined so, 19 year old prop, Cabous Eloff will retain a seat on the bench.

For the other side, Aaron Mauger has made plenty of changes, particularly among the forwards. All Blacks flanker, Shannon Frizell will have one of his mandated rest weeks, replaced by Teariki Ben-Nicholas. Daniel Lienert-Brown, Ash Dixon, and Jack Whetton have all been named in the tight five for their first starts of the year. Mauger needed to make some changes after the way his forwards were over powered by the Crusaders’ pack.

Josh McKay will be the fourth player to wear number 14 for the Clan in four games.

Jeff Thwaites and Manaaki Selby-Rickit are in line to make their Super Rugby debuts from the bench, the later having completed his suspension following an assault conviction.

It would be fair to say that the Highlanders’ set piece has been shaky so far but the Rebels’ pack are unlikely to present the same problems that were posed by the Crusaders or the Sharks. The Highlanders love to play with width, if the Rebels defence gets too compressed they will be burnt on the outside.

The Rebels have the best gain-line success in the competition to date but the ball is not getting beyond the midfield often enough. Both wingers seem to be under instruction to hold their width but I would love to see Marika Koroibete in particular look for more work on the inside.

If the Rebels are to cause an upset they are going to need to be well in front by the sixty minute mark then be prepared to dig in and hold the Highlanders out for the last quarter.

A. Smith, loves rugby balls


Players to Watch


Jona Nareki
The pint-sized Nareki has had a fantastic introduction to Super Rugby scoring trys in each of his first three games. A quick player with elusive footwork and a nose for the try line, Nareki has already made twelve tackle busts and three line breaks. The Rebels will not want him to get the ball in space.

Aaron Smith
Possibly a player to hear rather than watch. His constant yapping must be a major irritant to opposition teams, not to mention that he is a world class half-back. He missed the last game against the Rebels due to an enforced rest week, had he played the result may have gone the Highlanders’ way.

Marino Mikaele Tu’u
Mikaele Tu’u has been in the Highlanders system since 2018 but this year has locked down his position at Number 8. He had an outstanding game in a losing side against the Sharks, beating defenders and making plenty of metres in the outside channels. This week will be a real test for him against Naisarani.

Melbourne Rebels

Matt To’omua
To’omua had what was probably his best game against the Waratahs in round three before missing last week’s match. He is going to need to manage his team well for the Rebels to have a chance. If the Clan are planning to use the rush defence, be prepared to put in the occassional grubber or chip kick to break up their line.

Isi Naisarani
Niasarani leads the competition in carries and is the top forward for defenders beaten. His pick up to score against the Sharks really was a thing of beauty. His direct opponent this week is young-gun Marino Mikaele Tu’u. Naisarani should make his presence felt early.

Jordan Uelese
Although he will be coming off the bench I think all Rebels’ fans will be looking forward to Uelese’s return. We probably shouldn’t expect too much first game back but, Uelese is clearly the best scrummaging hooker in Australia and will add some serious starch in the back end of the game.


Melbourne Rebels

  1. Matt Gibbon
  2. Anaru Rangi
  3. Jemain Ainsley
  4. Gideon Koegelenberg
  5. Matt Philip
  6. Angus Cottrell
  7. Richard Hardwick
  8. Isi Naisarani
  9. Ryan Louwrens
  10. Matt To’omua
  11. Marika Koroibete
  12. Billy Meakes
  13. Tom English
  14. Andrew Kellaway
  15. Dane Haylett-Petty (C)



  16. Jordan Uelese
  17. Cameron Orr
  18. Cabous Eloff
  19. Ross Haylett-Petty
  20. Rob Leota
  21. Frank Lomani
  22. Michael Wells
  23. Andrew Deegan


  1. Daniel Lienert-Brown
  2. Ash Dixon
  3. Siate Tokolahi
  4. Jesse Parete
  5. Jack Whetton
  6. Teariki Ben-Nicholas
  7. James Lentjes (c)
  8. Marino Mikaele Tu’u
  9. Aaron Smith
  10. Mitch Hunt
  11. Jona Nareki
  12. Josh Ioane
  13. Rob Thompson
  14. Josh McKay
  15. Michael Collins



  16. Scott Gregory
  17. Teihorangi Walden
  18. Kayne Hammington
  19. Dillon Hunt
  20. Manaaki Selby-Rickit
  21. Jeff Thwaites
  22. Ayden Johnstone
  23. Liam Coltman


The students are likely to be out in force

Both of these teams will be desperate for a win. A loss for either side will put them a long way behind the conference leaders. The Rebels haven’t really clicked but they have been improving a little each week. The Highlanders are still something of an unknown quantity.

Previous matches between these two sides have been entertaining games and this one could be another high scoring affair.



If you were to believe the bookies then this game will be a no contest; they’re offering $6.05 for a Rebels win. I have a feeling that the game will be a lot closer than many expect plus, the Highlanders winning streak at home against Australian teams has to end eventually. Why not this week?

I’m tipping the Rebels to win in an upset by five points.



Date: Friday, 28th February
Venue: Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin
Kick Off: 7:05pm local
Referee: Paul Williams (NZ)
AR1: James Doleman (NZ)
AR2: James Munro (NZ)
TMO: Chris Hart (NZ)
Weather: Max 23° but it doesn’t really matter, it’s an indoor stadium.


Melbourne Rebels

I like film cameras, LP records and one-handed backhands... and rugby. I hope rugby doesn't go the way of film cameras, LP records and one-handed backhands.

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