The Melbourne Rebels host the Human Communications Sunwolves for the first time this week at AAMI Park.
The Sunwolves have traveled from the stifling heat of Hong Kong to the cooler climate of Melbourne with a very different team to the side that defeated the Stormers last start. This is a crucial game for the Melbourne Rebels to win if they are to remain in contention to play finals this year.
Prior to last week’s bye the Rebels snapped a five game losing streak with a hard fought win against the Brumbies. Early in the season the Rebels were flying high at the top of the Super Rugby ladder. Five consecutive losses, by a combined deficit of 113 points, has seen them drop to ninth place and in danger of missing the finals altogether. Hopefully the win in Canberra will have given the team a confidence boost with the knowledge that they are capable of coming back to snatch a game.
But, the Rebels need to improve in key areas. They have the worst record in the competition for tackles made (81%), discipline (11.6 penalties per game), and goal kicking (62%). Combine these factors with their inability to get the ball into the hands of their outside backs and it isn’t hard to see why the team has struggled recently.
Although they have managed to push a couple of good teams in games this year, the Sunwolves form has generally been very poor, with nine consecutive losses to start the season. Two weeks ago they turned that form around with a big win against the Queensland Reds in Tokyo, followed that up in Hong Kong with a last gasp victory over the Stormers.
Their previous form may be no indication of future performance though. Several of their squad have been called in to a training camp to prepare for Japan’s upcoming test matches against Italy and Georgia. Among the players missing from the side are Michael Leach and former Rebels, Shota Horie and Kotaro Matsushima.
The side that runs on to AAMI Park this week will still feature a number of Japan’s test squad, but not the big stars. The effects of travel and the Hong Kong humidity might have a big impact on the players fitness.
The two sides have met twice previously. Both times in Tokyo with both games ending in comfortable wins to the Rebels.
After starting every game this season, Jack Debreczeni has dropped out of the side and will be replaced in the Fly-half position by Reece Hodge. It’s worth noting that Hodge moved into the playmakers role during the second half comeback against the Brumbies. Tayler Adams has a chance to make his debut from the bench as Hodge’s backup.
Tetera Faulkner and Jermaine Ainsley are both out of the side this week and have been replaced on the bench by Ben Daley and, another potential debutant, Pone Fa’amausili.
Dane Haylett-Petty will make a welcome return to the starting side after recovering from concussion. Jordan Uelese also returns from injury and Sefa Naiavalu, after a couple of games for Box Hill, replaces Semisi Tupou. Both will start from the bench.
Dave Wessells summed up the side’s recent efforts… “In the early part of the season we focused on ourselves and tried to be brave,” he said.
“We knew things weren’t always going to be perfect one of the things that happened was we started to concede a lot of penalties. We coached and played in a way to mitigate some of those penalties, and as a consequence… we moved away from some of the stuff that had worked well for us.
“This week, and probably the last three weeks, we’ve really focused on moving back to the play that worked well for us – pretty confrontational, high-tempo, but at the same time quite brave.”
The Sunwolves have made the maximum number of changes to this week’s starting forward pack. Six new players will start while Grant Hattingh will move from the second row to Blindside Flanker and Ed Quirk shifts to the back of the scrum.
In fact, the only player to start in the same position as last week will be Hayden Parker at Fly-half. That’s a total of 14 changes!
Even the coach is a replacement with Tony Brown taking over from Jamie Joseph. Joseph has a second job as the national coach.
Player rotation is not something new for the Sunwolves, they have already used 43 players this season.
“Obviously we have lost a few of the Japan players and we have a couple of injuries as well,” said Brown.
He went on to say “The team’s a lot more confident after winning the last two games so we are confident we’re good enough to win as long as we prepare well and perform at our best”.
The Sunwolves have certainly played some attractive, attacking rugby at times this year but their defence has been very poor. They have conceded a total of 63 trys to date, 15 more than the next worst teams.
- Fereti Sa’aga
- Anaru Rangi
- Sam Talakai
- Matt Philip
- Adam Coleman (C)
- Angus Cottrell
- Colby Fa’ainga
- Amanaki Mafi
- Michael Ruru
- Reece Hodge
- Marika Koroibete
- Billy Meakes
- Tom English
- Jack Maddocks
- Dane Haylett-Petty
- Jordan Uelese
- Ben Daley
- Pone Fa’amausili
- Geoff Parling
- Lopeti Timani
- Harrison Goddard
- Tayler Adams
- Sefa Naivalu
- Craig Millar (C)
- Jaba Bregvadze
- Jiwon Koo
- James Moore
- Shinya Makabe
- Grant Hattingh
- Shunsuke Nunomaki
- Ed Quirk
- Keisuke Uchida
- Hayden Parker
- Hosea Saumaki
- Ryoto Nakamura
- Michael Little
- Lomano Lava Lemeki
- Jason Emery
- Atsushi Sakate
- Keita Inagaki
- Hencus van Wyk
- Sam Wykes
- Rahboni Warren-Vosayako
- Kaito Shigeno
- Harumichi Tatekawa
- Semisi Masirewa
PLAYERS TO WATCH
All eyes, including Michael Cheika’s, will be on Hodge this week to see how he performs in the role of Fly-half. Will his distribution be good enough to unlock the potential in the Rebels’ backline?
Mafi is one of the players to watch in every game he plays, he is among the best ball carriers in rugby. It will be fun to watch him play at home against his adopted countrymen.
After struggling for form in the early part of the season, “LT” has had a big impact coming off the bench in the last couple of games. He has had some strong carries and big hits in defence.
Parker has been the hero of the Sunwolves two recent wins. He has been distributing the ball well and is deadly accurate from the tee (96% accuracy). He won the game against the Stormers with a last minute penalty kick followed by a drop goal in the 84th minute.
Known as the “Tongan Godzilla”, Saumaki has been a one-man highlight reel for the Sunwolves. He has bagged seven trys in seven games, including a second half hattrick against the Reds, and has pulled off some amazing offloads.
Little moves from Inside to Outside Centre this week. He has a great step and will be a constant threat. He is in the top ten Super Rugby players for defenders beaten and a solid defender.
The Rebels will not want to take this game lightly, the Sunwolves are playing with confidence and are capable of scoring from anywhere. A win this week is vital to the Rebels’ chances of playing finals for the first time. If the Waratahs should slip up, the Rebels are still a chance to top the Australian Conference.
Given the mass changes, and the fact they’ve never won away, I’m tipping the Rebels by twenty plus points.
|Date:||Friday, 25th May|
|Venue:||AAMI Park, Melbourne|
|Weather:||Sunny afternoon, maximum of 16°|