Melbourne Rebels

Rebels v Blues Preview

Rebels v Blues Preview

It will have been 201 days since the 2016 Super Rugby final so all eyes will be firmly fixed on AAMI Park, Melbourne on Thursday in anticipation of what lies ahead as the 2017 Super Rugby season kicks off.


So, what’s the form like for both team?  what will they carry over from last season?  How did the trial matches go?


2016 – The Rebels were able to win 7 matches during season 2016 which is their equal most wins in a season (also in 2015). However, the Rebels were only able to earn 3 bonus points during the season, finishing 3rd in the Australian conference and 12th on the overall ladder but one position behind tonight’s opponents the Blues. 6 of their eight losses in 2016 were by 20 or more points including a 59 point thumping in the second last round at the hands of the Crusaders.

Pre-season – The Rebels scored the first try of both of their pre-season trials but there was to be no more crossing the chalk for the Rebels in either game. The Rebels lost their trials to the Force 27 – 5 and the Reds 32 – 13. The Rebels had significant issues at scrum time against the Reds.


2016 – The Blues had 8 wins and a draw during the season and finished last in the NZ conference. The fact they were only 4 points behind the Sharks who took the last wildcard berth signifies the strength of NZ rugby. The Blues did not lose to an Australian team in 2016 although they did draw v the Reds and 3 out of 4 wins v Australian sides (including v the Rebels were by less than 7 points).

Pre-season – The Blues just fell short in an eleven try thriller to the Hurricanes losing 38 to 33. The Blues finished their pre-season with an impressive 26 to 14 win against the Chiefs. They were very good at the set piece including the scrum.

Team News

The Rebels and Blues both have their share of headaches, but some new faces get the chance to make their Rebels debut.

Missing in action

The Melbourne Rebels have a list of players unavailable through injury that is as long as your arm. The players missing include the Fijian flyers Sefanaia Naivalu and Marika Koroibete, Wallabies forwards Sean McMahon, Toby Smith and James Hanson as well as new recruits Welsh international Dominic Day, Aussie 7s star Pama Fou and former Edinburgh lock Alex Toolis.

 Melbourne Rebels - Sefanaia Naivalu

 Sefa Naivalu – sitting this week out.

Not to be outdone the Blues also have some formidable names not making it to the starting gates including co-captains James Parsons and Jerome Kaino, Sonny Bill Williams and Patrick Tuipulotu.

New faces / milestones / other selections of note

The Rebels have named five potential Super Rugby debutants: Amanaki Mafi, Jackson Garden-Bachop, Jack Maddocks, Jordan Uelese and Tyrel Lomax (Uelese and Lomax on bench) plus the experienced Jake Schatz named on the bench for a potential Rebels debut. Hooker Uelese, if he plays, will be the fifth Victorian to play for the Rebels joining Lloyd Johansson, Sione Tuipulotu, Siliva Siliva and Rob Leota. Nic Sitrzaker will play his 50th Super Rugby game.

Amanaki Mafi – one half of the new bash brothers?

Jimmy Tupou will captain the Blues in his first appearance for the team. Prop Pauliasi Manu, who played five times for the Blues, before spending four seasons with the Chiefs, returns to Auckland. Augustine Pulu makes his first appearance for the Blues after 51 caps for the Chiefs and playing Sevens rugby. Michael Collins will make his Super Rugby debut at fullback. Whilst winger Matt Duffie returns to the familiar surrounds of AAMI Park having spent six seasons at the Melbourne Storm.

Key match ups / things to watch for

Three things you should keep your eye on.

Front Row

This will prove a captivating contest, particularly at scrum time. On paper the Rebels have the more experienced front row with Ah-Nau, Leafa and Weeks combining for more than 170 Super Rugby caps compared to Manu, Moulds and Mafileo combining for less than 70 caps. However, the Blues scrum was impressive against the Chiefs in their trial and the Rebels struggled against the Reds giving away a number of scrum penalties.

Laurie Weeks – needs to call upon all his experience this week

The other aspect of the front row in the Blues favour is the experience of Faumuina and Prattley on the bench compared to Uelese, Moloney and Lomax who have a grand total of 3 Super Rugby caps between them (all belonging to Moloney).


Nic Stirzaker v Augustine Pulu: Both have a similar amount of Super Rugby experience, and their ability to provide fast service from the base of the ruck will be a key ingredient in the match. Stirzaker had an injury interrupted start to his first season as captain and will be keen to stamp his leadership from game 1 in 2017. Pulu will be enthusiastic in his first match for the Blues.

Inside Centre

The Rebels’ 2016 rookie of the year Reece Hodge goes head to head with Blues’ 2016 rookie of the year Piers Francis. It will be fascinating to see how both players back up their debut seasons.

Hoping to see more of this from Reece again this week

Last time they met – Round 10, 2016.  The Blues established a big lead and were able to just hang on as the Rebels came flying home to hold on for a 36 – 30.


The away team has never won when these teams have played. The saying goes there is a first time for everything. And as much as my heart wants to say the Rebels, I think the Blues forwards particularly at scrum and line out will be too strong for the Rebels and will help set the platform for the Blues backs. The missing x-factor of Naivalu and Koroibete will also hurt the Rebels.

Blues by 10 points.

Melbourne Rebels

1. Cruze Ah-Nau
2. Pat Leafa
3. Laurie Weeks
4. Steve Cummins
5. Lopeti Timani
6. Jordy Reid
7. Colby Fainga’a
8. Amanaki Mafi
9. Nic Stirzaker (c)
10. Jackson Garden-Bachop
11. Tom English
12. Reece Hodge
13. Mitch Inman
14. Jack Maddocks
15. Jack Debreczeni


16. Jordan Uelese
17. Tom Moloney
18. Tyrel Lomax
19. Culum Retallick
20. Jake Schatz
21. Ben Meehan
22. Sione Tuipulotu
23. Jonah Placid


1. Pauliasi Manu
2. Matt Moulds
3. Sione Mafileo
4. Jimmy Tupou (c)
5. Gerard Cowley-Tuioti
6. Steven Luatua
7. Blake Gibson
8. Akira Ioane
9. Augustine Pulu
10. Ihaia West
11. Melani Nanai
12. Piers Francis
13. Rieko Ioane
14. Matt Duffie
15. Michael Collins

16. Hame Faiva
17. Sam Prattley
18. Charlie Faumuina
19. Scott Scrafton
20. Murphy Taramai
21. Sam Nock
22. George Moala
23. Rene Ranger

Match Details

Match Rebels v Blues @ AAMI Park, Melbourne

Date Thursday 23 February 2017

Kick-Off 19:45 local; 21:45 NZST

Referee Angus Gardner

AR1 Ben O’Keeffe

AR2 Will Houston

TMO Ian Smith

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