Preview: Rebels v Brumbies

Date published: May 12 2016 - Editor

There will be more than bragging rights at stake when the Rebels take on the Brumbies in their Australian derby in Melbourne on Friday.

These two teams are amongst the front-runners on the Australian conference table with the Brumbies in joint first place, alongside the Waratahs on 25 points, while the Rebels are two points adrift in third place.

The Rebels have played a match less, however, so victory will be a boost to their play-off chances.

They have been the surprise package amongst the Australian teams this season and a victory in this fixture will be a big statement from Australia's youngest franchise as it will mean they have beaten all four of their country's other teams, after earlier triumphs over the Western Force, Waratahs and Reds.

With such a tightly contested Australian conference and a dominant New Zealand group, Friday’s match could determine the fate of both these teams' seasons.

Rebels head coach, Tony McGahan, highlighted the importance of this match to his team's cause.

"It’s exciting for the club to still be in the conversation at this point of the season but we’re under no illusion about the importance of this game so we need to back ourselves and our abilities for this opportunity," he said.

The Brumbies have had mixed results in recent weeks, after they made an impressive start to the competition.

Last weekend's win over the Bulls came at a crucial time, after they suffered defeats in their two previous fixtures, and they will head into the clash in a confident mood as they dominated most facets of play against the men from Pretoria.

Australia's most successful side have won seven of the 10 matches against the Rebels, with both sides being victorious when they faced each other in last year's encounters.

The last time these teams met: The Rebels registered their first Super Rugby win in Canberra, beating the Brumbies 13-8. Sefanaia Naivalu scored the Rebels' only try with their other points coming via the boot of Mike Harris, who slotted two penalties and a conversion. For the Brumbies, Henry Speight crossed for a try.

Players to watch: Young Rebels utility back Reece Hodge has made a dream start to his Super Rugby career and delivered several impressive performances so far this season. The former Australia U20 player, who is also capable of playing at fly-half and full-back, starts in midfield and has caught the eye with some impressive line breaks and his ability to relieve pressure with long ranging touch finders is another impressive string to his bow.

Experienced Brumbies hooker Stephen Moore returned from injury last week and was a calming influence in their victory over the Bulls in Canberra. The Wallaby captain impressed as a ball carrier against the physical South Africans and will once again be expected to get his side over the advantage line. Moore also does well in his core duties and his throw-ins at the line-outs, scrummaging and defence will be crucial in determining his side's fortunes.

Team news: The Rebels have been boosted by the return of experienced trio Colby Fainga’a, Mike Harris and Lopeti Timani. Harris returns to full-back for the first time since he suffered a quad injury in the Rebels' season opener against the Western Force in Perth. After two appearances off the bench Fainga’a has been recalled to the starting XV for the first time since he injured his elbow against the Force in the opening round. Timani has recovered from a quad injury to be selected in the run-on team after the 25-year-old missed their match against the Blues in Auckland in Round 10.

Brumbies head coach Stephen Larkham has named an unchanged matchday squad after last weekend's triumph over the Bulls. The experienced trio of Scott Sio, co-captain Stephen Moore and Ben Alexander pack down in the front-row while Rory Arnold and Sam Carter are the starting locks. Scott Fardy, David Pocock and Jarrad Butler make up the back-row while Tomás Cubelli and co-captain Christian Lealiifano are the half-backs. Robbie Coleman and Tevita Kuridrani pair up in the centres while James Dargaville and Nigel Ah Wong will start on either wing, Aidan Toua is the full-back.

Form: The Rebels had a bye last weekend after they were on the wrong end of a 36-30 result against the Blues in Auckland in Round 10. The previous week, they registered a deserved 36-14 home victory over the Cheetahs which followed a 38-13 loss to the Hurricanes in Round Eight.

The Brumbies returned to the victory trail last weekend with a 23-6 victory over the Bulls in Canberra. Prior to that they lost 23-10 against the Highlanders in Dunedin and suffered a heavy 40-14 defeat against the Crusaders in Canberra in Round Nine.

Prediction: This should be an even contest although the visitors' experience should help them to secure victory. Brumbies to win by five points.

Previous results:

2015: Rebels won 13-8 in Canberra
2015: Brumbies won 20-15 in Melbourne
2014: Brumbies won 37-10 in Canberra
2014: Rebels won 32-24 in Melbourne
2013: Brumbies won 39-17 in Canberra
2013: Brumbies won 30-13 in Melbourne
2012: Brumbies won 27-19 in Melbourne
2012: Brumbies won 37-6 in Canberra
2011: Brumbies won 32-17 in Canberra
2011: Rebels won 25-24 in Melbourne

The teams:

Rebels: 15 Mike Harris, 14 Sefa Naivalu, 13 Tamati Ellison, 12 Reece Hodge, 11 Cam Crawford, 10 Jack Debreczeni, 9 Nic Stirzaker (c), 8 Adam Thomson, 7 Sean McMahon, 6 Colby Fainga’a, 5 Lopeti Timani, 4 Luke Jones, 3 Jamie Hagan, 2 James Hanson, 1 Toby Smith
Replacements: 16 Pat Leafa, 17 Cruze Ah Nau, 18 Tim Metcher, 19 Sam Jeffries, 20 Jordy Reid, 21 Ben Meehan, 22 Tom English, 23 Kotaro Matsushima

Brumbies: 15 Aidan Toua, 14 Nigel Ah Wong, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Robbie Coleman, 11 James Dargaville, 10 Christian Lealiifano (cc), 9 Tomás Cubelli, 8 Jarrad Butler, 7 David Pocock, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Rory Arnold, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Stephen Moore (cc), 1 Scott Sio 
Replacements: 16 Josh Mann-Rea, 17 Allan Alaalatoa, 18 Ruan Smith, 19 Tom Staniforth, 20 Blake Enever, 21 Jordan Smiler, 22 Joe Powell, 23 Lausii Taliauli

Date: Friday, May 13
Venue: AAMI Park, Melbourne
Kick-off: 19:40 local (09:40 GMT)
Referee: Rohan Hoffmann
Assistant Referees: Will Houston, Michael Hogan
TMO: Ian Smith