The NSW Waratahs will play out their final home fixture of Vodafone Super Rugby AU this weekend, as they take on the Melbourne Rebels at Leichhardt Oval today @ 11:15 am SA time.
The Waratahs desperately need to win this one to qualify for the Super Rugby AU playoffs in September. The Waratahs have 1 point more than the Rebels on the log, however, the Rebels have one game in hand. The Rebels won the first match in round 4 between the two teams with 29-10 and had a brilliant game last weekend when they whipped the Force with 57-5. The Waratahs lost to the Brumbies (11-38) last weekend in a game where they could do nothing right.
The Rebels play the Force next weekend in their final league game of the season before the playoffs. This makes it vital for the Waratahs to win with a bonus point if they want to secure a place in the playoffs on the 12th of September
Waratahs head coach Rob Penney has named his final matchday 23 for the regular season, as his side press their claims for a Finals berth in a must-win clash.
It's a largely unchanged squad for Penney, who has continued with the core group of players that have featured over the majority of the competition to date.
Despite being given every opportunity to prove his fitness, Karmichael Hunt has been ruled out after being a late scratching ahead of the Waratahs trip to Canberra last weekend.
Tepai Moeroa has been named in his place, earning his first start in Super Rugby AU. After making his Waratahs debut last week in Canberra, Nick Malouf retains his spot on the bench alongside Ben Donaldson and Mitch Short.
Will Harris also returns to the reserves after an extended injury lay-off due to an ankle injury.
NSW Waratahs: 1. Tom Roberson, 2. Tom Horton, 3. Harry Johnson-Holmes, 4. Ned Hanigan, 5. Rob Simmons (c), 6. Lachlan Swinton, 7. Michael Hooper, 8. Jack Dempsey, 9. Jake Gordon, 10. Will Harrison, 11. Alex Newsome (VC), 12. Tepai Moeroa, 13. Joey Walton, 14. James Ramm, 15. Jack Maddocks. Replacements: 16. Robbie Abel, 17. Tetera Faulkner, 18. Angus Bell, 19. Tom Staniforth, 20. Will Harris, 21. Mitch Short, 22. Ben Donaldson, 23. Nick Malouf.
Melbourne Rebels Head Coach Dave Wessels has named just two changes to his starting lineup.
Fan favourite Pone Fa’amausili makes way for Wallaby Jermaine Ainsley whilst Michael Wells slides into the XV at the expense of Josh Kemeny.
The changes see a sizeable amount of experience brought back into the run-on side with an additional 100 Super Rugby caps bolstering the Rebels pack.
“I thought Jermaine played really well against the Brumbies and then was unfortunately unavailable because of injury for the Reds,” said Wessels.
“We felt that he’s now fit and played well against the Brumbies – probably one of the better games I’ve seen him play – so he comes back in at tighthead.
“I think Josh [Kemeny] has played well, but he’s a young guy and we felt the experience in the back row and the work rate of Wellsy [Michael Wells] would be really good for us.”
Injured skipper Dane Haylett-Petty will have to spend another week on the sidelines, with the medical staff opting to take a cautious approach with the skipper.
“If it was a final, we probably would’ve pushed him (Haylett-Petty) to play.”
“We’re quite happy where the outside backs are – I think Marika is playing quite well; I think Hodgey is playing particularly well at 15.
“I keep reminding Dane, I’m not sure how he’s going to get himself back in the team – he’s going to have to earn that.
“Particularly around Reece Hodge – I’m pleased about the way Reece Hodge is playing at the moment.”
Whilst not reading too much into the recent history of the two sides, Wessels did acknowledge the two wins the Rebels have enjoyed over the Waratahs in 2020 did make the Round 9 clash an exciting fixture.
“It’s an exciting game,” admitted Wessels. “This comp has gotten better and better - every week it’s getting more and more interesting. “It’s interesting with everything on the line this week.
“These are the games you want to play and be a part of and everyone’s just really excited about that. “With everything that’s happening in Victoria and wanting to play for those people, it’s a real motivator for us."
Rebels: 1. Cameron Orr, 2. Jordan Uelese, 3. Jermaine Ainsley, 4. Matt Philip, 5. Trevor Hosea, 6. Michael Wells, 7. Brad Wilkin, 8. Isi Naisarani, 9. Frank Lomani, 10. Andrew Deegan, 11. Marika Koroibete, 12. Matt To’omua (c), 13. Campbell Magnay, 14. Andrew Kellaway, 15. Reece Hodge. Replacements: 16. Efitusi Maafu, 17. Cabous Eloff, 18. Pone Fa’amausili, 19. Michael Stolberg, 20. Richard Hardwick, 21. James Tuttle, 22. Bill Meakes, 23. Tom Pincus.
The Rebels have won their last two Super Rugby games against the NSW Waratahs on the bounce, after having won only two of their first 17 encounters in the competition (L15).
The Rebels have not conceded more than 20 points in any of their last five Super Rugby games; it’s their longest ever streak of restricting their opponents to 20 points or fewer and more times than they had done so in their 16 games prior.
The Rebels (86%) boast the highest lineout success rate of any team in Super Rugby AU; however, the NSW Waratahs have stolen 19 lineouts this campaign – nearly twice as many as any other team.
NSW Waratahs’ Will Harrison (91%; 31/34) and Rebels’ Matt Toomua (85%; 23/27) are the two most accurate goalkickers after the opening eight rounds of Super Rugby AU.
Tom Horton (NSW Waratahs) has crossed the gainline with 78% of his 27 total carries in Super Rugby AU, the highest percentage of any player to have made at least 10 carries this campaign.