The 2017 Vodacom Super Rugby season kick off on Thursday in Melbourne when the Rebels will host the Blues at AAMI Park.
It is always interesting to watch the first few rounds of Super Rugby just for the sake of seeing where teams are and who look like contenders.
We have now learned not to read too much into pre-season matches and the real deal start this week.
The Melbourne Rebels have named three Super Rugby debutants in the starting line-up and two on the bench for the opening round of the season against the Blues at AAMI Park, Melbourne, on Thursday.
New recruits Amanaki Mafi, Jackson Garden-Bachop and Jack Maddocks have been named in the run-on team while home grown rookie Jordan Uelese and Tyrel Lomax have been included as reserves for the first round of the 2017 Vodafone Super Rugby season.
The clash should be an interesting one with the Blues ending last year very strong and just missing out for the pay-offs.
The Rebels on the other hand had a stronger start leading the Australian conference at one stage but fade away midway through the season.
“A couple injuries and illnesses during the trial phase has impacted selection for our season opener but the situation presents an early opportunity for players to put their hand up and stake their claim for positions,” McGahan said.
“It’s unfortunate we’re missing key players for Round One, we gave everyone the chance to prove their fitness and availability, but it’s too early in the season to risk the long term health of our players with a big season still ahead of us.”
The head-to-head results favours the Blues 3-2 however the home side has won all five previous meetings, including a 42-22 Rebels victory when the two sides last met at AAMI Park in 2015.
Tana Umaga’s have a youthful starting line-up and it is perhaps Rieko Ioane who has the biggest opportunity.
The 19-year-old Ioane, who played two tests as a replacement for the All Blacks on their November tour, mainly played on the right wing for the Blues in his debut season last year.
As starts go, it was an impressive one. Ioane played only five matches for Umaga’s team before joining the national sevens programme and he was hugely missed for his pace and finishing power.
“The way we’re training and the things we’re getting out of these guys, we’re very happy with where we are at,” Umaga said.
“The group is pretty committed to starting well and doing well, and know there’s a lot of competition and a lot of people that are coming back who have some reputations; they want to put their best foot forward to stay where they are.”
A major positive in the team’s pre-season matches against the Hurricanes and Chiefs has been the scrum, and in particular the performance in the set piece by former Chiefs prop Pauliasi Manu. Consistency in that area will put the Blues on the right track as All Blacks prop Charlie Faumuina, named on the reserves bench, suggested today.
Faumuina said: “We really need to set the platform this year and that starts with us in the tight five really taking it to teams and winning that battle so we can give these guys some good ball.”
2016: Blues won 36-30 in Auckland
2015: Rebels won 44-22 in Melbourne
2013: Blues won 36-32 in Auckland
2012: Rebels won 34-23 in Melbourne
2011: Blues won 40-23 in North Harbour
Prediction: On end of last year’s form I will give it to the Blues with 10 point.
Melbourne Rebels Team
1. Cruze Ah-Nau
2. Pat Leafa
3. Laurie Weeks
4. Steve Cummins
5. Lopeti Timani
6. Jordy Reid
7. Colby Fainga’a
8. Amanaki Mafi^*
9. Nic Stirzaker (Captain)
10. Jackson Garden-Bachop^*
11. Tom English
12. Reece Hodge
13. Mitch Inman
14. Jack Maddocks^*
15. Jack Debreczeni
Replacements: Jordan Uelese, Tom Moloney, Tyrel Lomax, Culum Retallick, Jake Schatz, Ben Meehan, Sione Tuipulotu, Jonah Placid,
14. Matt Duffie
13. Rieko Ioane
12. Piers Francis
11. Melani Nanai
10. Ihaia West
9. Augustine Pulu
8. Akira Ioane
7. Blake Gibson
6. Steven Luatua
5. Gerard Cowley-Tuioti
4. Jimmy Tupou (c)
3. Sione Mafileo
2. Matt Moulds
1. Pauliasi Manu
Replacements: Hame Faiva, Sam Prattley, Charlie Faumuina, Scott Scrafton, Murphy Taramai, Sam Nock, George Moala, Rene Ranger.