Dane Haylett-Petty has been cleared to return for the Melbourne Rebels ahead of their final regular-season match against the Western Force in Newcastle on Saturday.
After sitting on the sidelines with a knee injury sustained against the Waratahs in Round 4, Haylett-Petty’s return provides a welcome boost for Coach Dave Wessels. “It’s really nice to have Dane’s experience back in the team,” admitted Wessels.
“All week in training, he adds a calming voice to everybody, and we’ve missed him – we’ve played most of the season now without him, so it’s great to have him back. “I thought Reece Hodge has played really well at 15, so it wasn’t an easy decision to be honest.”
The skippers' return is just one of several changes announced Wessels this morning.
Reece Hodge is shifted to outside centre for the injured Campbell Magnay (ankle), whilst Bill Meakes returns to the starting XV in his favoured 12 jersey.
That’s not the only change in the three-quarter line with Tom Pincus favoured over Andrew Kellaway at wing and Matt To’omua handed the reins at 10 in a new look halves pairing featuring James Tuttle.
“Bobby Tuttle has played well when he’s come on and I thought Billy Meakes has played well when he’s come on, so it’s probably more about trying to give those guys some exposure," said Wessels.
“I think Bill’s one of those guys who’s very experienced for us and we feel like we’re getting towards the business end, so having some experience in all the positional groups is very helpful.”
Up front, Richard Hardwick comes in for Brad Wilkin in the only change to the starting pack, whilst Matt Gibbon returns from a long injury layoff to earn a spot on the bench in place of Pone Fa’amausili (hamstring).
“I think the backrow in our team is the area that probably has the most competition," said Wessels.
“There’s a lot of competition in all the backrow spots, we just feel going into what is effectively a playoff game, we feel the experience is of Dickie gets him the nod over Brad Wilkin.”
Coach Wessels is all too familiar with the stakes on offer and welcomed the chance to play some afternoon rugby in Newcastle.
“It’s nice the game’s in Newcastle – we don’t have to drive two hours to get to the game as we had to all the other ones.
“I think the other important thing is that the Force would have to go into quarantine if we played in Sydney, so this enables them to go home without having to quarantine, so if I was in their shoes that would be a nice thing.
“We’re excited to play – it’s kind of finals time, which everyone wants to be involved in.
“We’re looking forward to it”.
Rebels: 1. Cameron Orr, 2. Jordan Uelese, 3. Jermaine Ainsley, 4. Matt Philip, 5. Trevor Hosea, 6. Michael Wells, 7. Richard Hardwick, 8. Isi Naisarani, 9. James Tuttle, 10. Matt To'omua, 11. Marika Koroibete, 12. Bill Meakes, 13. Reece Hodge, 14. Tom Pincus, 15. Dane Haylett-Petty (c). Replacements: 16. Efitusi Ma'afu, 17. Cabous Eloff, 18. Matt Gibbon, 19. Michael Stolberg, 20. Brad Wilkin, 21. Frank Lomani, 22. Andrew Deegan, 23. Lachie Anderson.