Rebels lose their leader
TEAM ANNOUNCEMENT: Wallabies No.8 Isi Naisarani will finally turn out for Melbourne Rebels in Super Rugby AU after dropping the weight that delayed his return.
Rebels coach Dave Wessels said that Naisarani had not maintained his playing weight while in rehabilitation for a serious hamstring injury suffered during COVID-19 lockdown.
But since hitting his “fighting weight” he’s been dominating training this week and was named to face the Western Force on Friday.
“Isi has taken longer to come back, he probably wasn’t in the condition that we needed him to be to get back,” Wessels said on Thursday.
“Those standards should apply to Wallabies players as much as they apply to everybody else, so he wasn’t quite ready but he’s now done the work.
“He’s rearing to go and he’s looking to make a point tomorrow [Friday].”
While Melbourne have one Australia representative back for the Leichhardt Oval match, they’ve lost skipper Dane Haylett-Petty to a knee injury for the next five to six weeks.
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Reece Hodge will take over at fullback.
Tom Pincus, who spent two years playing for the Bristol Bears, is set to make his Super Rugby debut after being named on the wing.
“He’s a good all-round player and he’s got a natural eye for the gaps and a good kicking game,” Wessels said.
Flank Brad Wilkin has been named on the bench for his first appearance after his second knee reconstruction.
The last time the teams met, in 2017, both were fighting for Super Rugby survival.
While the Force won the match, they were cut from the competition with Wessels and a number of players joining Melbourne.
Wessels said it would be “weird” to coach against the team he was formerly in charge of but he was delighted they were back in the competition.
“Every big city in Australia deserves a Super Rugby team and Perth is one of those and I think it’s a credit to everyone there to keep the team going,” he said.
“We’re under no illusions about the challenge.”
Melbourne Rebels: 15 Reece Hodge (co-captain), 14 Tom Pincus, 13 Andrew Kellaway, 12 Billy Meakes, 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 Matt Toomua (co-captain), 9 Ryan Louwrens, 8 Isi Naisarani, 7 Richard Hardwick, 6 Michael Wells, 5 Trevor Hosea, 4 Esei Haangana, 3 Jermaine Ainsley, 2 Jordan Uelese, 1 Cameron Orr.
Replacements: 16 Efitusi Ma’afu, 17 Cabous Eloff, 18 Pone Fa’amaluli, 19 Matt Philip, 20 Rob Leota, 21 Brad Wilkin, 22 Frank Lomani, 23 Andrew Deegan.
Date: Friday, July 31
Venue: Leichhardt Oval, Sydney
Kick-off: 19.05 (09.05 GMT)
Referee: Angus Gardner
Assistant referees: Amy Perrett, Reuben Keane
TMO: James Leckie