The Rebels face a daunting task as they welcome the Australian conference leaders to Melbourne on Friday.
Impotency continues to blight Tony McGahan's men, as the try-shy Rebels struggled to break down opposition defences during a run of three defeats, including a thumping by rivals the Western Force. The likes of Luke Burgess, Tamati Ellison and Jason Woodward featuring in the backline mean the team's attack should not be so blunt. But at the moment, they run the risk of becoming Super Rugby's answer to Italy – try-hards lacking quality and incisiveness out wide, relying heavily on an inspirational skipper at No 8.
The Waratahs dished out a 32-8 beating in Sydney last week, and there is nothing to suggest the Brumbies – who halted the Tahs' winning streak – will be an easier proposition, even on home turf. Indeed, if Michael Cheika's side defended well, the boys from Canberra are likely to present an even more impregnable rearguard for the Rebels' ineffectual offence to negotiate.
Of greater concern to the Rebels is the fixtures list. It's tough to see where the points and the wins will come from. Their next match, away to the Highlanders, may offer a reprieve, but you wouldn't bet on it just now. Then they travel to the defending champions in Waikato, before welcoming the in-form Force and the table-topping Sharks to Melbourne.
With experienced utility back Lachlan Mitchell ruled out for the season this week, McGahan has named Tom Kingston on the right wing, with newly re-signed scrumhalf Nic Stirzaker replacing Wallaby Burgess at nine. Prop Laurie Weeks has recovered from a head knock to start at tighthead, while concussion rules out Toby Smith; Max Lahiff comes in at loosehead.
For the Brumbies, Laurie Fisher and Stephen Larkham have picked up admirably from where Jake White left off, their only defeat – and a shock one at that – coming in round one when the Quade Cooper-inspired Reds raided Canberra. Since then, there have been good wins over the Force, Hurricanes and Stormers, as well as an especially noteworthy victory over the Waratahs. This is despite a lengthy injury list, and the desperately sad loss of David Pocock for another season.
Their backline is a dangerous one, where the flair of in-form Jesse Mogg, the reinstated Tevita Kuridrani and Matt Toomua combine with the steady pragmatism of Pat McCabe. Veteran hooker Stephen Moore leads the charge up front.
Rebels – 15 Jason Woodward, 14 Tom Kingston, 13 Tamati Ellison, 12 Mitch Inman, 11 Tom English, 10 Bryce Hegarty, 9 Nic Stirzaker, 8 Scott Higginbotham (c), 7 Scott Fuglistaller, 6 Colby Fainga'a, 5 Luke Jones, 4 Hugh Pyle, 3 Laurie Weeks, 2 Pat Leafa, 1 Max Lahiff
Subs: 16 Shota Horie, 17 Paul Alo-Emilie, 18 Cruze Ah-Nau, 19 Cadeyrn Neville, 20 Sean McMahon, 21 Luke Burgess, 22 Male Sa'u, 23 Angus Roberts.
Brumbies – 15 Jesse Mogg, 14 Joe Tomane, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Pat McCabe, 11 Robbie Coleman, 10 Matt Toomua, 9 Nic White, 8 Ben Mowen (c), 7 Jarrad Butler, 6 Jordan Smiler, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Scott Fardy, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 JP Smith
Subs: 16 Siliva Siliva, 17 Ruan Smith, 18 Ruaidhri Murphy, 19 Jack Whetton, 20 Lachlan McCaffrey, 21 Conrad Hoffmann, 22 Andrew Smith, 23 Christian Lealiifano.
Photo: Scott Barbour/Getty Images