The Melbourne Rebels head to Wellington this week to take on the Hurricanes at the Cake Tin. It’s a big flight for the Rebels after Perth last round, but at a time where the boys from Melbourne are standing up and being heard in Super Rugby, it’s possibly their most significant flight yet.
First, let me apologise for the lateness of this review. Your intrepid reporter is in Cape Town visiting family. I have only just found an Internet connection, and also have no idea what time it is anywhere.
A month or so ago, the Melbourne Rebels had just notched their second win of the season against the Blues, extinguishing, partially at least, the worries of a club who had promised improvements in leaps and bounds, but delivered scratchy, inconsistent results.
Fast forward to today, and it is almost like looking at a different club. After running the Bulls amazingly close, they secured a club-defining win against the Crusaders, and ran riot in the first half against the Force in Perth, but more importantly, ground out the win when the hosts fought back. They now sit third on the conference ladder, above the Waratahs and Force, and this week against the Hurricanes, are searching for their first win across the border, and incredibly, their third straight victory.
Fourth straight, if you count the Bulls match as a moral victory, which, of course, we absolutely do.
The Hurricanes, meanwhile, need this win if they are to remain a chance in the incredibly tight New Zealand Conference. After netting two straight wins to land them in the top six, they started extremely well against the Brumbies, only to capitulate in the second half and let the game go completely. Adding the fact that the Hurricanes only have one more game in the Cake Tin for the season after this match, they will be desperate for maximum points against an arguably weaker opponent.
1. Ben May, 2. Dane Coles, 3. Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, 4. Jeremy Thrush, 5. Jason Eaton, 6. Faifili Levave, 7. Jack Lam, 8. Victor Vito, 9. TJ Perenara, 10. Beauden Barrett, 11. Julian Savea, 12. Tim Bateman, 13. Conrad Smith (c), 14. Alapati Leiua, 15. Andre Taylor.
REPLACEMENTS: 16. Motu Matu’u, 17. Reg Goodes, 18. James Broadhurst, 19. Brad Shields, 20. Chris Eaton, 21. Tusi Pisi, 22. Jayden Hayward.
Beauden Barrett takes advantage of the fact that Saturday’s not a school day, the pre-teen returning to his familiar number 10 after benching against the Brumbies. Alipate Leiua replaces Cory Jane, who is out for up to 6 weeks with an ankle injury. Jack Lam replaces Karl Lowe, while Faifili Levave swaps with Brad Shields, and the awesomely-named Jeffery Toomaga-Allen with Reg Goodes.
1. Nic Henderson, 2. Ged Robinson, 3. Jono Owen, 4. Cadeyrn Neville, 5. Hugh Pyle, 6. Luke Jones, 7. Tim Davidson, 8. Gareth Delve (c), 9. Nick Phipps, 10. Kurtley Beale, 11. Cooper Vuna, 12. Lachlan Mitchell, 13. Mitch Inman, 14. Mark Gerrard, 15. Julian Huxley.
REPLACEMENTS: 16. Adam Freier, 17. Rodney Blake, 18. Al Campbell, 19. Tom Chamberlain, 20. Richard Kingi, 21. James Hilgendorf, 22. Stirling Mortlock.
A few changes to the visitors’ lineup from last week. Michael Lipman is rested this week after having plastic surgery on his nose, which was badly injured following the match against the Force. Luke Jones returns from suspension, with Tim Davidson taking the other flank. Jono Owen gets his first run-on selection, taking over from Rodney Blake, who will supersub, along with Richard Kingi, who has recovered from injury, and Tom Chamberlain, who has recovered from concussion.
Congratulations to Nic Henderson, who claims his 100th Super Rugby cap, after 71 games for the Brumbies, 8 for the Force, and 21 for the Rebels. An unsung hero of the Rebels pack, he holds the career score line achieved only by the purest of props: 0 tries, 0 points.
This game will take place at Westpac Stadium, Wellington, on Saturday at 5.30pm local, 3.30pm AEST, and God knows when where I am in Cape Town. It will be broadcast as always on FOX Sports 3 and 3HD.
These teams have met once before in Super Rugby, the Rebels claiming their first win against an international opponent with a 42-25 mauling at AAMI Park, in round 6 of the 2011 season.
The man in the middle is Jonathon White from New Zealand. With the flags will be Mike Fraser and Richard Kelly, both from New Zealand. Watching the TV will be Vinny Munro from New Zealand.
Ahh, Caderyn Neville. With a professional career of only a few games, in a sport he only took up two years ago, not to mention a first name he can claim as a Twitter handle, he is the poster child of ‘awesomely obscure’. His performances in his handful of games have been extraordinary, marked by a double in the last game against the Force.
I have never seen any player take to Super Rugby with the ease and speed that Caderyn has, and I challenge all who read my previews (both of you – hi Mum!) to name any player who has had more of an immediate impact on his team than the Rebel lock. The skill with which he is able to read the play and his opponents, how he earned both his tries in Perth, is rare in somebody so inexperienced. He has the Nathan Sharpe-esque gift of being able to find an extra metre or two in a hit-up, whether it is there or not.
The first email I received when I got off the plane in Cape Town was a link to an article saying that Caderyn was being considered for Wallabies selection, something that would be considered ludicrous in any normal circumstance. However, if the Rebels have taught us anything, it’s that this kid is worth taking a gamble on. Melbourne did, and I hope the Wallabies do too.
It’s easy to forget, due to the gulf of points between these two teams, that this is a game between ninth and tenth in the league.
Both teams made fast starts in their last games before falling away in the second half, the Rebels saved as much by the dreadful performance of Force full-back David Harvey as they were by their own ability to grind out the second half.
I think the Hurricanes will start a lot better than the Rebels, who will be tired after traveling from Perth to Wellington within the week. A few tries in the first half should be enough to see the home side through, but Melbourne will be bolstered by keeping the same back line for two consecutive games, a rare feat for the Rebels.
The head says three in a row may be a step too far for the Melburnians, leading to a close Hurricanes win, but the gut wonders why the Rebels have gone for a supersub strategy, exploiting a weakness of their opponents to close out matches…it will be an interesting second half.
What do you think will go down at the Cake Tin? Will the Hurricanes keep their playoff hopes alive, or will the new and improved Rebelution keep rolling on?