The Rebels are hosting the Bulls in a match which should be an absolute cracker.
Both sides are second in their respective conferences, sitting 6th (Rebels) and 7th (Bulls) both on 28 points with only 3 points separating them on points difference.
The Rebels got back on the winners’ list last Friday against the Queensland Reds with a 30 – 24 victory at AAMI Park. Prior to that, the Rebels had three losses in a row against the Stormers, Waratahs and Hurricanes with a bye in the middle. The Rebels would have been happier with a performance which was closer to an 80-minute performance than their one half of good rugby in their matches v the Hurricanes and Waratahs.
In three games this season the Rebels have not won a game against South African opponents.
The Bulls were beaten soundly at home by the Crusaders 45 to 13. Although given the current ladder (in terms of points) has the Crusaders 1st, Hurricanes 2nd and daylight 3rd, we shouldn’t read too much into this result. Prior to the Crusaders loss, the Bulls defeated the Waratahs 28 to 21 and prior to that lost a thriller to the Stormers 24 to 23.
In contrast to the Rebels, the Bulls have played two Australian sides winning both, with the other win being against the Reds 32 to 17. In their last five matches the Bulls have gone loss, win, loss, win, loss, so based on that pattern are due for a win.
The Rebels have suffered a double blow to their forward pack with Isi Naisarani (foot) and Luke Jones (fractured eye socket) both unavailable. Naisarani has the equal third most carries in the competition and Jones is in the top ten for lineouts won. Naisarani and Jones are also the two Rebels with the most runs this season.
Naisarani and Jones have been replaced in the starting side by Richard Hardwick and Rob Leota, who have both moved from the bench. Matt To’omua has been named on the bench for his first game in Rebels colours and Sam Jeffries returns from injury for his first game of the season.
I am surprised that Quade Cooper has been selected after coming out on the wrong end of a Samu Kerevi charge last Friday. Cooper was in Disneyland for a number of minutes after the contact. I thought he would have failed the concussion protocol. Although there is still a chance that he may be a late withdrawal.
1. Tetera Faulkner, 2. Anaru Rangi, 3. Jermaine Ainsley, 4. Ross Haylett-Petty, 5. Matt Philip, 6. Angus Cottrell, 7. Richard Hardwick, 8. Rob Leota, 9. Will Genia, 10. Quade Cooper, 11. Marika Koroibete, 12. Billy Meakes, 13. Reece Hodge, 14. Jack Maddocks, 15. Dane Haylett-Petty.
Reserves: 16. Hugh Roach, 17. Matt Gibbon, 18. Sam Talakai, 19. Sam Jeffries, 20. Pone Fa’amausili, 21. Michael Ruru, 22. Campbell Magnay, 23. Matt To’omua
Star full back Warrick Gelant returns to the Bulls’ line up this week. Gelant will take some pressure off Handré Pollard, in terms of his kicking game as he has the second most kick metres for the Bulls in 2019. Hanro Liebenberg comes back into the team at openside flanker, Liebenberg has laid the second most tackles for the Bulls this season.
Paul Schoeman has been promoted from the bench to the starting lineup whilst Marco van Staden, Jannes Kirsten and Divan Rossouw have moved from the starting lineup onto the bench. Thembelani Bholi and Dylan Sage have dropped out of the game day 23.
1. Lizo Gqoboka, 2. Schalk Brits, 3. Trevor Nyakane, 4. Jason Jenkins, 5. RG Snyman, 6. Paul Schoeman, 7. Hanro Liebenberg, 8. Duane Vermeulen, 9. André Warner, 10. Handré Pollard, 11. Rosko Specman, 12. Burger Odendaal, 13. Johnny Kotze, 14. Cornal Hendricks, 15. Warrick Gelant.
Reserves: 16. Jaco Visagie, 17. Simphiwe Matanzima, 18. Wiehahn Herbst, 19. Jannes Kirsten, 20. Marco van Staden, 21. Embrose Papier, 22. Manie Libbok, 23. Divan Rossouw
Players to Watch
Reece Hodge is the Rebels all-time leading try and point scorer and can play pretty much anywhere in the back line. Last week he stepped into the void (along with Billy Meakes) left by Quade Cooper when he went off concussed. Hodge made two breaks that created tries for Tetera Faulkner and Dane Haylett-Petty.
Hodge’s booming kick is also something to keep an eye out for, whether it be in general play or if the Bulls’ discipline is lacking around the half way line and Hodge attempts a long-range penalty goal.
Anaru Rangi has been one of the main reasons that the Rebels’ lineouts have improved dramatically this season. Rangi is an ultra-competitor, who gives his all. He runs hard with the ball and tackles hard without it. And along the way may have rubbed up his opponents and opposition fans the wrong way. The kind of person you would love to have in your team but would hate if he is in the opposition.
Matt To’omua is set to play his first game in the blue Rebels jersey after receiving a release from his contract by Leicester one week earlier than expected. Leicester had one match remaining but could not make the finals and were safe from relegation. Wallaby back To’omua’s arrival could not have been better timed after Quade Cooper was concussed last week. On numerous occasions this year Rebels fans have asked when does Matt To’omua arrive, well he is finally here. To’omua’s versatility is one of his key strengths and has spent most of his time at either fly half or inside centre, he even spent some time at fullback for Leicester this season. Assuming Cooper plays, he will at least take some pressure off him for the next five weeks.
Handré Pollard is the highest point scorer in the 2019 Super Rugby season with 144 points. He is the leading point scorer by some distance with Sunwolves’ Hayden Parker second with 98 points. The Rebels will need to watch their discipline in their defensive half because Pollard will make them pay for any ill-discipline. Pollard will use his general kicking game to try and pin the Rebels deep in their own half.
The experienced number eight Duane Vermeulen returned to South Africa this season after a number of years at Toulon and a short stint in Japan. Vermeulen has played 46 tests for the Springboks and brings physicality and ball carrying-ability to the Bulls. Vermeulen has 441 run metres for the season, which is third for the Bulls and also has five pilfers, which is the most for the Bulls this season. He is only likely to be available for the Australian section of the Bulls’ Trans-Tasman due to the Springboks Rugby World Cup resting policy. So, he will be keen to make his efforts v the Rebels and the Brumbies count.
Rosko Specman, after spending five years playing for the South African Sevens team, joined the Bulls at the start of the season. Specman has speed to burn and is unmistakable with his hair style. He scored a double in his Super Rugby debut and is the equal leading try scorer for the Bulls this season with four. Specman has made ten line breaks and 14 tackle busts in eight games this season. Last week v the Crusaders, after receiving the ball on the halfway line, Specman broke a tackle, put on a step and ran 25 metres before putting in a chip kick before being unlucky not to regather the kick. Bulls fans and neutral fans will be hoping for some Specmagic at AAMI Park (no doubt a lot of Rebels fans would be happy to see some Specmagic on the proviso that the Rebels win the match).
What to expect
Both teams have been great at lineout time this season, being the first two teams for lineouts won – Bulls (93.3%) and Rebels (91.7%). As their ladder position would suggest the two sides are even in a number of statistics – Clean breaks – Bulls and Rebels 107 each, Meters carried – Rebels 4,291 and Bulls 4,270, carries – Bulls 1,182 and Rebels 1,181. One stat that is vastly different is the two teams avenue to points, the Rebels have scored 42 tries compared to the Bulls 24. Hence, why Pollard is so far ahead on the top point scorers table. The Rebels will need to be on top of their discipline, the Rebels have received seven yellow cards over the season compared to only two for the Bulls.
Amazingly, there are just eight points separating 3rd (29) from 14th (21) on the ladder (ignoring the fact that the Hurricanes are technically 4th with 40 points). Given the tightness of the ladder and finals ramifications, it is almost a must-win match for both teams. The saying goes there is a first time for everything (although after nine seasons the Rebels still have not won in South Africa) but I will say after a hard-fought game that the Rebels at home will have their first win against South African opponents in 2019 … Rebels by 5 points
Rebels v Bulls at AAMI Park
Friday 17 May at 7:45pm AEDT
Referee: Federico Anselmi
AR1: Damon Murphy
AR2: Aaron Pook
TMO: Ian Smith