The Melbourne Rebels play in their final regular-season match against the Western Force in Newcastle on Saturday 07:00 am SA time.
The Rebels could still sneak into the playoffs if they beat the Force, a bonus-point win will seal it. The Rebels comes off a bye last weekend while the Force lost 14-31 to the Brumbies. The Force is still looking for their first win of the 2020 Super Rugby AU series.
The Rebels included Haylett-Petty who sat on the sidelines with a knee injury sustained against the Waratahs in Round 4. “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.
The Western Force has made several changes to their squad. The changes include a number positional switches in the starting XV, as well as the return of winger Byron Ralston who was rested against the Brumbies last week.
Ralston, who is the Force’s leading try-scorer in the competition with four tries, will start in his regular position of right wing with Marcel Brache switching to the left wing.
The second change to the run-on team is at flank, where Brynard Stander replaces Kane Koteka, who moves to the bench. Stander is a regular number eight but will slot in comfortably on the side of the scrum and continue to make an impact at the breakdown.
Stander and his loose-forward partners Fergus Lee-Warner and Henry Stowers will ensure that the back row is competitive in broken play as it has been all season.
Coach Tim Sampson has kept faith with the tight five that has performed well in the past two weeks, bringing stability to the scrums and ensuring strong performances in the lineouts.
In another positional change, Wallaby Kyle Godwin returns to his usual position at outside centre after playing on the left wing against the Brumbies last week.
There are three further changes on the bench. At hooker, veteran Heath Tessmann returns to the squad after last featuring against the Reds two weeks ago.
Young prop Dominic Hardman, who replaces Tom Sheminant, makes his squad debut at Super Rugby level.
The final change sees lock Johan Bardoul return to the squad in place of Tevin Ferris. Bardoul missed last week’s clash with the Brumbies and last featured off the bench against the Reds two weeks ago.
Force: 1. Pek Cowan, 2. Andrew Ready, 3. Kieran Longbottom, 4. Jeremy Thrush, 5. Ollie Atkins, 6. Fergus Lee Warner, 7. Brynard Stander, 8. Henry Stowers, 9. Ian Prior (c), 10. Jono Lance, 11. Marcel Brache, 12. Henry Taefu, 13. Kyle Godwin, 14. Byron Ralston, 15. Jack McGregor. Replacements: 16. Heath Tessmann, 17. Chris Heiberg, 18. Dominic Hardman, 19. Johan Bardoul, 20. Kane Koteka, 21. Nick Frisby, 22. Nick Jooste, 23. Jake Strachan.
13 of the previous 14 Super Rugby matches between the Rebels and Force have been decided by a single-figure margin; the Rebels (W10) have won the majority of the games in that span.
The Force have lost their last seven Super Rugby matches in succession, the last time they endured a longer losing run was a club-record 10-match stretch in the 2015 season.
The Force have made 153 tackles per game in Super Rugby AU, the most of any team and one of two sides with an average of 150+ (Reds – 151 per game).
Isi Naisarani (Rebels) has made more carries per game (15.3) than any other player in Super Rugby AU, as well as the most offloads per game (1.3) of any forward.
Jeremy Thrush (Force) has won 37 lineouts in Super Rugby AU (Inc. 4 steals), more than any other player in the tournament.