The Reds will be searching for their fifth straight win at home to remain unbeaten in Brisbane this season when they face the Rebels to decide who will be playing in the Super Rugby AU final against the Brumbies next weekend. The game will kick off at 11:15 am today at the Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane.
The Reds and Rebels played to a draw (18-18) in round 2 of the 2020 Super Rugby AU competition while the Reds outplayed the Rebels 19-3 six weeks later. The Rebels won against the Force 34-30 last weekend to qualify for the playoffs while the Reds had an easy win against the Brumbies with 26-7.
Rebels coach Dave Wessels has dropped a selection surprise by naming both Brad Wilkin and Richard Hardwick in his starting backrow to face the QLD Reds in the Vodafone Super Rugby AU Qualifying Final.
The two renowned openside flankers will share the task of nullifying the breakdown threat posed by Reds captain Liam Wright and the competition’s leading onballer Fraser McReight.
“We think they’ve both performed well,” explained Wessels of his two flankers.
“We definitely picked two sevens to put some pressure on the ball ourselves but obviously Brad Wilkin’s is playing really well, and Dickie Hardwick probably had the best game I’ve ever seen him play last week.
“So, it’s very hard not to pick those guys – I think it’s a case of them almost deserving selection, as much as it is a tactical decision.
Andrew Kellaway also returns to the starting XV after sitting out last week in the Rebels thrilling come from behind win over the Force last weekend.
“Kells is obviously a very experienced winger and I think what we have to do is pick the most experienced backline that we can,” said Wessels
“It’s great to have guys like Dane back fit and playing well – he made a huge difference playing last week.
“So that’s the most experienced backline we can pick and in playoff games those things are important.”
With contracted Rebel halves Ryan Louwrens (bicep) and James Tuttle (hamstring) unavailable through injury, Sydney University scrum-half Theo Strang has answered an SOS from the Rebels to join the camp and cover the nine position from the bench.
“Theo’s played for us before at the start of Super Rugby; prior to COVID he actually started our first game in Japan, so he’s been part of the squad for quite a while.
“He wasn’t part of the original touring party but then when Ryan Louwrens was injured, we were only left with Frank Lomani and Bobby Tuttle as our two fit nines, so we had to bring in a third fit nine and that was Theo.
“Unfortunately for this week Bobby Tuttle has injured his hamstring, so he’s unavailable for selection.”
Elsewhere, loose-forward Rob Leota and centre Campbell Magnay return to the matchday 23 for the knockout clash.
“I’m excited about it – everyone plays to want to play in finals,” said Wessels.
“We’ve probably had a dress rehearsal for the finals in the last two weeks – we played almost like a final against the Waratahs and a final against the Force last week.
“I’m proud of the courage shown by the guys in both of those games to stay in all of those contests and get the outcomes we needed in both of them, so I think courage shown on the field has been indicative of the way we’ve carried ourselves off the field.”
“When you’re the Melbourne Rebels you’re always the underdog, that’s the whole way we exist. “That’s the thing I love most about the club - You have to scrap and fight for everything and that’s what makes it so rewarding.
“When you have little successes, it feels wonderful and that’s a real motivator for the team.
“We’ve got a group of people who’ve elected to take the path less travelled, so everything that’s happened suits us to the bone.”
Rebels: 1. Cameron Orr, 2. Jordan Uelese, 3. Jermaine Ainsley, 4. Matt Philip, 5. Trevor Hosea, 6. Brad Wilkin, 7. Richard Hardwick, 8. Isi Naisarani, 9. Frank Lomani, 10. Matt To’omua, 11. Marika Koroibete, 12. Bill Meakes, 13. Reece Hodge, 14. Andrew Kellaway, 15. Dane Haylett-Petty. Replacements: 16. Efitusi Maafu, 17. Cabous Eloff, 18. Matt Gibbon, 19. Michael Stolberg, 20. Rob Leota, 21. Theo Strang, 22. Andrew Deegan, 23. Campbell Magnay.
Reds head coach Brad Thorn decided to keep the same starting side for this weekend’s Grand Final qualifier with just two changes on the bench.
Jack Straker replaces fellow GPS frontrower Ruan Smith as Queensland’s replacement tighthead prop, while hooker Alex Mafi returns to the 23 from a hamstring injury.
It’s set to be a special evening for Mafi, as well as Lukhan Salakaia-Loto who will both celebrate their 50th cap for Queensland in front of family, friends and fans.
“We’re unbeaten at home this season and hoping for another big crowd,” said Thorn.
“Queenslanders are some of the most passionate people and we thank our loyal fans for their support. We’d love a sea of maroon there on Saturday night – Queenslanders supporting Queenslanders.
“Finals footy – this is what we play for. Melbourne is a quality team and we’re expecting a tough contest.
“Well done to Alex and Lukhan on their 50th cap. It’s a great achievement to play 50 games for your state and as a group, we congratulate them both,” said Thorn.
The winner of Saturday’s match will qualify for the Super Rugby AU Grand Final against the Brumbies in Canberra next Saturday night.
Queensland Reds: 1. Harry Hoopert, 2. Brandon Paenga-Amosa, 3. Taniela Tupou, 4. Angus Blyth, 5. Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, 6. Liam Wright, 7. Fraser McReight, 8. Harry Wilson, 9. Tate McDermott, 10. James O’Connor, 11. Filipo Daugunu, 12. Hamish Stewart, 13. Jordan Petaia, 14. Chris Feauai-Sautia, 15. Jock Campbell. Replacements: 16. Alex Mafi, 17. JP Smith, 18. Jack Straker, 19. Tuaina Taii Tualima, 20. Angus Scott-Young, 21. Moses Sorovi, 22. Bryce Hegarty, 23. Hunter Paisami.
The Reds are undefeated against the Rebels in Super Rugby AU (W1, D1) and picked up a 19-13 win in their last encounter (Rd 7); they’ll be out to clinch back-to-back wins against the Rebels for the first time since winning their first six meetings in the competition from 2011 to 2013.
This will be the Rebels’ first appearance in a Super Rugby finals campaign, while the Reds have reached the knockout stage for the first time since 2013; though, they’ve not won a finals game since their triumph over the Crusaders in the 2011 Final (18-13).
The Reds have won their last five Super Rugby games on the bounce at Suncorp Stadium; the last time they enjoyed a longer streak at the venue within a single season was a seven-game stretch in 2011.
The Reds have made 92 offloads throughout the 2020 Super Rugby AU campaign, 20 more than any other team in the competition.
The Melbourne Rebels have gained 137 metres from mauls thus far in Super Rugby AU, the most of any team in the competition and 101 metres more than the last-ranked Reds (36m).
The Reds have won 64 turnovers throughout the regular season in Super Rugby AU, the most of any team in the competition and 16 more than the Rebels (48).
The Rebels have scored the opening try of the game in three of their last five away games against the Reds, striking within the opening five minutes of the game on two occasions in that span.
Tate McDermott (Reds) has scored three tries in his last two Super Rugby appearances and has been directly involved in five tries in his last four games (3 tries, 2 try assists).
Filipo Daugunu (Reds) has provided three break assists via offload this Super Rugby AU campaign, more than any other player in the competition; he’s also provided one try-assist via this method.
Dane Haylett-Petty (Rebels) has scored three tries and made one try-assist in his last four Super Rugby games against the Reds, as well as making seven clean reaks, beating 16 defenders, and gaining 442 metres in that span.