The Rebels need another strong performance from Scott Higginbotham against the Blues in Melbourne on Friday, writes MARIETTE ADAMS.
With both teams claiming morale-boosting victories last weekend – the Rebels edged the Chiefs 16-15 and the Blues thumped the Force 41-24 – the stage is set for a high-scoring match in a fixture that has never produced less than 50 points.
The Rebels are 10th on the combined log, having won five and lost five, and still in with a chance of reaching the play-offs. The Blues have won just two of their 11 matches, and another victory will see John Kirwan's charges stretch away from the bottom-placed Force and Reds.
Higginbotham not only led his side with aplomb against the Chiefs, but stood tall in his personal battle with All Blacks loose forward Liam Messam, scoring an important try which saw him equal Owen Finegan record's for most Vodacom Super Rugby tries by a forward (29). It would have made for interesting viewing had Jerome Kaino been available for the Blues, but in Steven Luatua, Higgingbotham has another tough test ahead of him.
Luatua himself has enjoyed an inconsistent year in which he has been struggling for game time, and will see this match as an opportunity to work himself into some form ahead of the international season. The duel between the two captains and No 8s could decide the outcome of the match.
Rebels coach Tony McGahan has made three changes, with fullback Mike Harris, wing Tom English and flank Colby Fainga'a coming in for Bryce Hegarty, Tamati Ellison and Sean McMahon respectively.
For the Blues, Kaino, Charles Piutau and Dan Bowden are ruled out with injuries and replaced by Luatua, Lolagi Visinia and Ihaia West. In front row, Charlie Faumuina is being rested with Angus Ta'avao taking his spot.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Rebels 1, Blues 2
In Melbourne: Rebels 1, Blues 0
STATS AND FACTS
– The Rebels have won three of their last four games; their best run of form in Super Rugby.
– The Rebels have not won by more than 10 points since round three in 2014. Their five wins this season have been at an aggregate margin of 28 points.
– The three previous clashes between these sides have all been won by the home side. They have produced aggregate scores of 63, 57 and 68 points respectively.
– The Blues have lost the most rucks this season, an average of 5.3. However, opponents of the Rebels enjoy a better ruck success rate (96%) than against any other side.
– The Blues have scored just one try after seven-plus phases of play, a joint-low in the competition. The Rebels, meanwhile, have scored a tournament-high 29% (5/17) of their tries after seven or more phases.
|Team||Top point-scorer||Top try-scorer||Most metres gained||Most tackles|
|Rebels||Mike Harris (83)||Lopeti Timani, Nic Stirzaker (3)||Sefenaia Naivalu (516)||Sean McMahon (108)|
|Blues||Ihaia West (76)||Jerome Kaino (3)||Charles Piutau (701)||Brendon O'Connor (88)|
Rebels – 15 Mike Harris, 14 Tom English, 13 Dom Shipperley, 12 Mitch Inman, 11 Sefanaia Naivalu, 10 Jack Debreczeni, 9 Nic Stirzaker, 8 Scott Higginbotham (c), 7 Jordy Reid, 6 Colby Fainga'a, 5 Lopeti Timani, 4 Luke Jones, 3 Paul Alo-Emile, 2 Pat Leafa, 1 Toby Smith.
Subs: 16 Tom Sexton, 17 Cruze Ah-Nau, 18 Tim Metcher, 19 Cadeyrn Neville, 20 Scott Fuglistaller, 21 Luke Burgess, 22 Bryce Hegarty, 23 Telusa Veainu.
Blues – 15 Lolagi Visinia. 14 Melani Nanai, 13 Francis Saili, 12 George Moala, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Ihaia West, 9 Jimmy Cowan, 8 Steven Luatua (c), 7 Brendon O'Connor, 6 Akira Ioane, 5 Hayden Triggs, 4 Culum Retallick, 3 Angus Ta'avao, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Subs: 16 Greg Pleasants-Tate, 17 Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 18 Sam Prattley, 19 Josh Bekhuis, 20 Joe Edwards, 21 Jamison Gibson-Park, 22 Simon Hickey, 23 Hamish Northcott.
Photo: Robert Cianflone/Getty Images