The Melbourne Rebels have named a strong Match Day 23 ahead of Friday night’s Retro Round blockbuster against arch Weary Dunlop rival, the NSW Waratahs.
Kevin Foote has made three changes to last week’s Starting XV, with Josh Kemeny’s strong outing seeing him promoted back to blindside flanker, while fan favourite Cabous Eloff has been named for his first game of the 2023 Harvey Norman Super Rugby Pacific season, replacing Sam Talakai, who failed a concussion test on Saturday.
Eloff was one of the Rebels’ strongest trainers over the pre-season, with the hulking prop impressing during trials in Albury, Japan and Wagga Wagga, while also leading Wests to a breakthrough Hospital Cup Grand Final win alongside a number of his Rebels’ teammates.
Nick Jooste returns to full back, with Joe Pincus unavailable through injury, while David Feliuai looks set to make his Super Rugby debut, named as a replacement.
Tuaina Taii Tualima will provide backrow support, joining Vaiolini Ekuasi, who returns for his second Rebels Super Rugby match after debuting against the Western Force.
The Rebels will be looking to capitalize on last week’s exhilarating second half against the Hurricanes, where the Rebels outscored their kiwi counterparts 27-17 in front of a packed AAMI Park crowd, thanks to tries from Carter Gordon, Lachie Anderson and a double from Richard Hardwick.
Hardwick has started the season in red-hot form, backing up an impressive opening game against the Force, with an eye-catching effort against the Hurricanes, scoring 2 tries, with 12 carries, 11 tackles and an important ruck turnover.
The backrower said while his side will take plenty of confidence from last week’s comeback, Friday night is a new game and one his Rebels are determined to start strongly.
“It was a great fightback in that second half, and something the players took great pride in,” said Hardwick.
“We have strong belief now that we can stick to our structures and they will get us the outcomes, and that if continue to make the right decisions at the right times, execute and take the space we create, then we’re going to be dangerous.
“We have a new challenge this week and that’s been our focus.”
The 79-game veteran also touched on the Rebels’ impressive breakdown dominance over the opening two weeks, and their ability to force turnover after turnover.
“Our focus on discipline has been such an important thing.”
“It’s also about picking your moments and knowing when to attack. We're fortunate, where we’ve got such a talented backrow, so it’s basically a case of everyone staying in tackles and slowing the ball down to give us opportunities at the breakdown, while also making the right decision at the right time.
“There’s plenty of ways to get turnovers, and for us, that’s been a big thing this pre-season, so it’s good to see that coming to fruition, but we need to stay focused and keep building on that success.”
To celebrate our storied rivalry against the Waratahs and the great history of Victorian rugby, Friday’s clash will be a Retro Round, with fans encouraged to wear their favourite old-school rugby jersey to the game.
Half-time prizes will be available for the best-dressed fans, with more information to come.
The Melbourne Rebels face the NSW Waratahs in Round 3 of the Harvey Norman Super Rugby Pacific competition. The match kicks off at 7:35 pm on Friday, March 10 at AAMI Park, with tickets still available. Stan Sports will also be providing ad-free, live and on-demand coverage. Melbourne Rebels Match Day 23 vs Waratahs
1. Matt Gibbon
2. Alex Mafi
3. Cabous Eloff
4. Josh Canham
5. Trevor Hosea
6. Josh Kemeny
7. Brad Wilkin (C)
8. Richard Hardwick
9. Ryan Louwrens
10. Carter Gordon
11. Monty Ioane
12. Stacey Ili
13. Reece Hodge (VC)
14. Lachie Anderson
15. Nick Jooste
16. Jordan Uelese
17. Cameron Orr
18. Pone Fa’amausili
19. Tuaina Taii Tualima
20. Vaiolini Ekuasi
21. James Tuttle
22. Lukas Ripley
23. David Feliuai