The RaboDirect Rebels have announced their side for their opening match against the Western Force at AAMI Park this Friday, with six new faces in the squad of 22.
Melbourne will host the opening match of the 2013 Super Rugby Competition, in what will be the biggest year in the history of Rugby Union in Victoria.
Head Coach Damien Hill has drafted three debutants into the starting line up, including Wallabies flanker, Scott Higginbotham, relatively unknown New Zealand flanker, Scott Fuglistaller, and former Western Force centre, Rory Sidey.
Higginbotham has fully recovered from a shoulder injury, which had kept the dynamic backrow forward out of action since the Wallabies win over Wales at Millennium Stadium in December last year.
Scott’s fitness has been under a cloud since his return from the Spring Tour, however the High Performance Staff at the Rebels were quick to escalate Scott once cleared of his injury.
Partnering the former Super Rugby Player of the Year runner up will be openside flanker, Scott Fuglistaller, after some impressive trial form during the Club’s Hobart and Geelong matches.
The New Zealand born Fuglistaller played two Super Rugby matches in 2012 for the Highlanders – covering for injuries late in the year – but is best known for representing the Wellington Lions in the ITM Cup.
He is touted as the Club’s dominant ‘fetcher’, with the ability to also carry into contact, and will bring a new dimension to the team with the departure of 2012 openside flankers, Michael Lipman and Tom Chamberlin.
The bench will see three new faces in Rebels colours, with former Stade de France outside back, Alex Rokobaro, Sydney University centre, Tom English, and Japanese international, Shota Horie, all making their debuts from the reserves bench.
It’s a just reward for Rokobaro, who played for the Rebel Rising (Rebel Rugby Program) in 2011, before venturing to the European glamour club in a quest to one day return to Super Rugby.
Tom English has also showed extreme resolve and form, with the former Australian Sevens player returning from a serious knee injury to be one of the standout backs in their practice matches.
Shota Horie is certain to make history this Friday night, with the super sub poised to become the first Japanese player ever to play in the Super Rugby Competition, as the Rebels will open up the 2013 season at AAMI Park.
The match will also see the timely returns of Laurie Weeks and Jarrod Saffy, both players who had lengthy times on the sideline in 2012, but fought their way back to the rugby paddock to be in the best physical shape of their careers.
For Saffy, from considering retirement to forcing his way back into contention is an enormous feat for the NRL Premiership winning forward, who will no doubt be called upon to provide an impact in the later stages of Friday night’s contest.
The RaboDirect Rebels will kick off Rugby in Victoria, and throughout South Africa and New Zealand on Friday at 7:40pm at AAMI Park, with FoxSports to broadcast live from 7:00pm.
The starting 22 for the RaboDirect Rebels against the Western Force on Friday 15 February:
15. James O’Connor
14. Lachlan Mitchell
13. Mitch Inman
12. Rory Sidey*
11. Richard Kingi
10. Kurtley Beale
9. Nick Phipps
8. Gareth Delve (c)
7. Scott Fuglistaller*
6. Scott Higginbotham*
5. Luke Jones
4. Hugh Pyle
3. Laurie Weeks
2. Ged Robinson
1. Nic Henderson
16. Shota Horie^
17. Paul Alo-Emile
18. Cadeyrn Neville
19. Jarrod Saffy
20. Nic Stirzaker
21. Alex Rokobaro^
22. Tom English^
^Super Rugby and RaboDirect Rebels debut
*RaboDirect Rebels debut.