Rebels change it up for Force invasion
TEAM ANNOUNCEMENT: Melbourne Rebels coach Dave Wessels has made five changes to the side to face a fresh Western Force in Round Eight of the Super Rugby AU competition.
Versatile Northern Panthers’ product Rob Leota will make his first start in over a year, after being named as his side’s left lock, with Steve Cummins moving to the bench.
The change is one of three to the starting XV – with James Hanson replacing Jordan Uelese in the front row, while second-gamer Lewis Holland will make his first start in Super Rugby, partnering with Stacey Ili in the midfield, after being named at No.12.
Holland’s inclusion will see Rebels’ vice-captain Reece Hodge shift to fullback for the first time this season, with Tom Pincus selected as a replacement.
After running through his maiden try of the season last week, Melbourne’s all-time leading point scorer again looms as an important figure in his side’s quest for their third win of the season.
The back row and halfbacks remain unchanged.
For the second consecutive week in a row, the Rebels will run out with arguably the fastest pair of wings in Super Rugby AU – with Frank Lomani receiving another opportunity to partner with close friend Marika Koroibete.
Lomani produced an eye-catching display in his first start of the season. The 24-year-old repeatedly cut through Queensland’s sturdy defence, showcasing his speed and mesmerizing footwork, in what was an impressive Man of the Match performance for the Rebels.
Meanwhile, Brad Wilkin returns after missing the past five games with a shoulder injury. The 25-year-old looks set to make an immediate impact on Friday, after recently completing an impressive block of training.
Joining the talented flank on the bench will be Jordan Uelese, Matt Gibbon, Steve Cummins, James Tuttle, Jeral Skelton, Tom Pincus and Argentinean international Lucio Sordoni, who looks set to make his fourth Super Rugby AU appearance in his promising career.
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“This is a really important game for us,” Rebels coach Dave Wessels said.
“We know the Force will be fresh coming off the bye, but we just need to be better than last week. We were really disappointed with that performance and we know can be better and Friday is the perfect night to prove it.
“It’s a massive boost to have Wilko back. He’s a really popular player and he’s worked really hard to be ready and get through his rehab block, so to have him back in the mix is really healthy for us.”
In what will be the 17th encounter between the two fierce rivals, Friday represents the first match the Western Force have played in Melbourne since 2017.
The Rebels will enter the Round Eight clash chasing their 13th victory against their top-three rival, though with eight of their last nine Super Rugby encounters being decided by single-figure margins, Friday promises to be another enthralling affair of Australian rugby.
Melbourne Rebels: 15 Reece Hodge, 14 Frank Lomani, 13 Stacey Ili, 12 Lewis Holland, 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 Matt Toomua (captain), 9 Joe Powell, 8 Michael Wells, 7 Richard Hardwick, 6 Josh Kemeny, 5 Trevor Hosea, 4 Robert Leota, 3 Pone Fa’amausili, 2 James Hanson, 1 Cabous Eloff.
Replacements: 16 Jordan Uelese, 17 Matt Gibbon, 18 Lucio Sordoni, 19 Steven Cummins, 20 Brad Wilkin, 21 James Tuttle, 22 Tom Pincus, 23 Jeral Skelton.
Date: Friday, April 9
Venue: Melbourne Rectangular Stadium
Kick-off: 19.45 (17.45 AWST; 09.45 GMT)
Referee: Damon Murphy
Assistant referees: Amy Perrett, James Quinn
TMO: James Leckie