Super Rugby returns this weekend after a 4-week hiatus with the touring Stormers set to take on the Melbourne Rebels at AAMI Park.
There hasn’t been much to smile about in Melbourne lately, not in Rugby circles at least. With the English winning the Cook Cup series at AAMI Park in Melbourne, on their way to a wash of the white variety, we also had the embarrassment of a torn-up AAMI Park being paraded all around the world as an example of Victorian turf standards.
Flash-forward a few weeks, after the Rebels and ARU made threats to the MOPT about moving venues for the July 2 clash with the Stormers, it looks like we may have turned a corner. It has been rumored that close to a million dollars has been spent on rectifying the AAMI Park problems (you wonder why they waited until now, oh yes – one million dollars). The big test will be this Saturday when the big boys pack down for their first scrum of the evening.
With only Sean McMahon and Toby Smith donning the Green and Gold during the June test series, the remainder of the Melbourne team (at least the small number that aren’t injured) have been hard at work on the training paddock, including a (slightly waterlogged) exhibition match against the Hurricanes last week at Quins, in an attempt to finish the season with a bang, not a whimper.
The Stormers from Cape Town are at the start of a two-match tour of Australia, with their Springbok representatives rejoining the team after a successful 2-1 series win over Ireland in June. The Stormers currently sit on top of the Africa 1 conference on 36 points, 4 clear of the Bulls, so there is plenty of incentive to not lose any games on the run home.
Key Match ups
Mike Harris v Jaco Taute: Both Harris and Taute are coming back into their respective teams after lengthy injury spells. The Stormers, hit particulary hard by injury and unavailability at fullback, have opted for the experience of Taute at 15 behind a fairly young and inexperienced backline. Harris will be a welcome injection to the Rebels backs, providing a much-needed second playmaker role to Jack Debreczeni at flyhalf.
Colby Fainga’a v Schalk Burger: Veteran loose forward Schalk Burger will be taking over the Stormers’ captaincy in the absence of co-captains Juan de Jongh and Frans Malherbe. His experience at the breakdown will be vital to the Stormers’ chances of success, but Rebels backrower, Colby Fainga’a is no slouch in the ball stealing and running department and will give Schalk a good run (and bash) for his money.
Should I bother?
Yes, you should, for several reasons:
1. It is the Rebels last home game of the season and will also be the final home game for foundation Rebel Luke Jones, who will be heading over to France to play for Bordeax at season’s end. It will also be the final home game for departing Rebel Mike Harris and possibly others I don’t know about yet. (I’m always the last to know stuff).
2. History will be made when Australian referee, Amy Perrett, becomes the first female to officiate a Super Rugby game. Amy will be joining Nic Berry as an Assistant Referee to game-day referee, Angus Gardner. Amy is also one of 2 Australian referees heading to Rio to help referee the men’s and women’s Sevens at the Olympics.
3. It’s a good distraction from the Federal Election circus that is taking place on Saturday.
The Rebels will receive a timely boost with the return of “Mikey” Mike Harris from a hamstring injury, that cruely kept him out of the Wallabies squad for the series against England. Head Coach Tony McGahan has had to make a change at 9 with captain Nic Stirzaker sidelined with an ankle injury he picked up in training earlier in the week. Sean McMahon, retuning from Wallabies duties, will take over the captaincy for the match. Laurie Weeks will return from his hamstring injury via the bench and Paul Asquith, currently uncapped, has a chance off the bench for a possible debut.
Stormers Head Coach Robbie Fleck named a 27-man squad for their two-match (Rebels and Force) tour of Australia. Even before the match-day 23 was announced, Fleck was forced into several squad changes due to injury and national Sevens commitments. Loose forward Schalk Burger will captain the team in the absence of co-captains Juan de Jongh (Springbok Sevens) and Frans Malherbe (neck injury). Fullback Cheslin Kolbe will also be unavailable due to national Sevens duties.
1. Cruze Ah Nau, 2. James Hanson, 3. Toby Smith, 4. Luke Jones, 5. Lopeti Timani, 6. Jordy Reid, 7. Sean McMahon (captain), 8. Colby Fainga’a, 9. Ben Meehan,10. Jack Debreczeni, 11. Tom English, 12. Reece Hodge,13. Sefa Naivalu,14. Jonah Placid,15. Mike Harris.
Reserves: 16. Pat Leafa, 17. Tom Moloney, 18. Laurie Weeks, 19. Culum Retallick, 20. Adam Thomson, 21. Mick Snowden, 22. Mitch Inman, 23. Paul Asquith.
1. Oli Kebble, 2. Bongi Mbonambi, 3. Vincent Koch, 4. Eben Etzebeth, 5. Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6. Nizaam Carr, 7. Siya Kolisi, 8. Schalk Burger (captain), 9. Nic Groom, 10. Jean-Luc du Plessis, 11. Leolin Zas, 12. Damian de Allende, 13. Daniel du Plessis, 14. Kobus van Wyk, 15. Jaco Taute.
Reserves: 16. Scarra Ntubeni, 17. Alistair Vermaak, 18. JP Smith, 19. JD Schickerling, 20. Rynhardt Elstadt, 21. Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 22. Louis Schreuder, 23. Scott van Breda.
The Rebels and Stormers have met four times with the Stormers leading the tally three games to one. The Rebels only win over the Stormers came during Round 14 in May 2013 when the Melbourne boys won 30-21. With the Stormers leading the Africa 1 conference the South Africans will be trying hard not to lose this position on the ladder, as it guarantees them a home final, so they will not be an easy team to beat.
On the other hand, the Rebels have had a history of fading in the last few rounds but they are still a very (emphasis on the word “very”) slim possibility of making the finals, or at the least, finishing with their best win / loss record in their history – plus they will be wanting to give their departing players a happy home-ground send-off.
The only time the Rebels have beaten the Stormers was at AAMI Park, Round 14, May 2013
I want to be wrong here, but I think the Stormers’ will to win will be greater than the Rebels’, therefore I choke back the tears and in-between sobs, predict the Stormers to win by 9.
Date: Saturday 02 July 2016
Venue: AAMI Park, Melbourne, Australia
Kick-off: 7:40 pm (AEST)
Referee: Angus Gardner
Assistant Referees: Nic Berry and Amy Perrett
TMO: Ian Smith