When you sit down to try to come up with a list of positives for the Rebels to take forward to this week’s game, following the loss to the Waratahs on Friday night there’s really only one standout. They aint playing the Tahs again!
So early in the season it is difficult to gauge whether the performance of the Rebels was just an ‘off night’, or a sign of more to come. Unfortunately for them, they came up against a team at their clinical best. In the end the difference between the two sides can be summed up in one fairly simple statistic.
Fourteen players from that Waratah team have played 174 test matches over the last two years. For the Rebels, only two players have played test match footy over the same period, Stirling Mortlock and Gareth Delve, for a combined six tests.
How will they cope this week then we they play the Brumbies? A team with nine Wallaby representatives since 2009, with 132 test match caps.
Alternatively, how will the Brumbies approach the Rebels? Fans of the Brumbies, have had cause to worry about their team’s ‘killer instinct’ of late. As Brumby Jack touched on in his review of their win over the Chiefs, the Brumbies once again failed to secure a bonus point for four tries, despite jumping out to an early lead.
Against the Tahs, the Rebels tried to control possession in the hope that the points would come. They didn’t….well, they did..but not for them. There seems a couple of pointers indicating that the Rebels won’t be doing this again. At least from nowhere further out than, say, the thirty metre line.
The first clue to this, is the team selected. Whilst Danny Cipriani moves into the starting team at fly half, replacing the injured James Hilgendorf, Julian Huxley moves alongside him to inside centre, allowing Mark Gerrard to start at fullback. So how do you expect them to play? Cipriani, Huxley, Gerrard. The latter two possess probably the biggest kicking game in Australia (alongside Cameron Shepherd), whilst the former, has one of the cleverest.
The second clue is…well, not so much a clue. Here’s what Sam Cordingley, rested for the Brumbies game, said about the Rebels’ tactics.
“We’ve got some very good kickers in our side and in rugby it’s tough to maintain possession. It’s actually easier to defend because you don’t have to commit as many numbers to the breakdown, but in attack if you’re holding on to the ball you have to commit three or four players, and if they’re not contesting the ball they’re just a flat line of defence,” he said.
“I think we have to start playing rugby a little bit smarter down the other end of the field because it caught us out a few times.”
So there you have it. The Rebels to boot for position, rather than wearing themselves down trying to play the recycling style of rugby Rod MacQueen perfected with the Wallabies in the late 90s.
If this is the case, then they will want to be pinpoint with their kicks because Brumbies fullback Pat McCabe is proving to be one of the finer kick returners going around. I suspect we might see a bit of Adam Ashley-Cooper dropping back there to assist as well, whilst the speed on the wings in Francis Fainifo and Henry Speight make it a risky tactic from the Rebs.
The Brumbies gave the Chiefs plenty of chances to score tries on the weekend, however the Chiefs sternly refused many of those opportunities. Such generosity by the Brums will need to be rectified this week. This will, however, provide some confidence amongst the Rebels that they may be able to create some try scoring opportunities, unlike against the Tahs. Making the most of those chances will be the key.
As for the rest of the Brumby game plan, you can expect more of the same if for no other reason than that they have chosen the same starting XV as the one they downed the Chiefs. The only change on the bench comes in the form of the fiery Peter Kimlin replacing Stephen Hoiles who is still struggling with an Achilles issue.
The Rebels have three injury forced changes, to the aforementioned Hilgendorf and Cordingly as well as blindside Hoani Macdonald. Former Australian Schoolboy and NRL Premiership winning forward, Jarrod Saffy will make his run on debut for the Rebels on the side of the scrum.
The rest of the pack remains the same whilst Nick Phipps takes Cordingley’s spot, sparking a halve’s combination that has been christened “Phipriani” by @Travi34 on twitter. With Huxley joining Mortlock in the centres, Cooper Vuna takes Luke Rooney’s spot on the wing and Gerrard starts at fullback.
The teams are:
Rebels: 15 Mark Gerrard, 14 Lachlan Mitchell, 13 Stirling Mortlock[c], 12 Julian Huxley, 11 Cooper Vuna, 10 Danny Cipriani, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Gareth Delve, 7 Michael Lipman, 6 Jarrod Saffy, 5 Kevin O’Neill, 4 Adam Byrnes, 3 Greg Somerville , 2 Ged Robinson, 1 Nic Henderson. 16 Heath Tessman, 17 Laurie Weeks, 18 Alister Campbell, 19 Tom Chamberlain, 20 Richard Kingi, 21 Afusipa Taumoepeau, 22 Luke Rooney.
Brumbies: 15. Pat McCabe, 14. Henry Speight, 13. Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12. Robbie Coleman, 11. Francis Fainifo, 10. Matt Giteau (c), 9 Josh Valentine, 8. Ita Vaea, 7. Julian Salvi, 6. Mitchell Chapman, 5. Mark Chisholm, 4. Ben Hand, 3. Dan Palmer, 2. Stephen Moore, 1. Ben Alexander Reserves: 16. Huia Edmonds, 17. Salesi Ma’afu, 18. Peter Kimlin, 19. Colby Faingaa, 20. Patrick Phibbs, 21. Matt Toomua, 22. Andrew Smith
Players to Watch: Depth at blindside flanker is an area of concern in Australian Rugby at the moment, particularly with the delayed start to the season by Rocky Elsom. Therefore, the elevation of Jarrod Saffy to the Rebels starting line-up will be an interesting sidelight to the game. At about 1.91m, he isn’t particularly tall but if he can provide a high impact on the game, and high work rate, then he’s an outside shot at Wallaby selection.
For the Brumbies, let’s see how Pat McCabe goes at fullback. He returned the ball with good effect last week, and it seems he will get a fair work load this Friday. McCabe proved a quality finisher for the Brumbies last year, and was rewarded with a Wallaby cap. The move to fullback provides him a chance to showcase more of his abilities across the park.
Key Match Up: Well you just can’t go past Stirling Mortlock up against Adam Ashley-Cooper. You could probably extend this to be Mortlock up against the entire Brumbies, so intriguing will it be to see their former captain steaming head first into his beloved Ponies. For AAC, he’s been labelled ‘Morty’s replacement’ for years now and he finally gets a chance to come up against Stirlo. It’s real old bull v young bull type of by-play.
My Tip: However much I’d love to see the Rebels get in the winners’ circle, I can’t see it happening. I expect the Brumbies to win, not by as much as the Waratahs did last week. Brumbies by 9.
Date :Friday 25 February
Venue : Melbourne
Kick Off local: 19:40
Referee: Jonathan Kaplan
Assistant Ref 1: James Leckie
Assistant Ref 2: Stephen Hill
TMO : George Ayoub