Mafi says Rebels to keep playing running rugby

Tue, Mar 21, 2023, 10:07 PM
Melissa Woods - AAP
by Melissa Woods - AAP
The red-hot Chiefs look to continue their strong start against the Rebels

Alex Mafi says Melbourne coach Kevin Foote continues to give them freedom to play their own game despite a rocky beginning to the Super Rugby Pacific season.

Rather than retreat into their shells after a 1-3 start, the hooker said Foote is backing the team, who matched the undefeated Chiefs early on in Hamilton last round before suffering a 44-25 defeat. 

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Melbourne host Queensland (2-2) - from whom Mafi joined the Rebels this season - on Saturday night in round five.

The home side will be without Wallabies back and vice-captain Reece Hodge, with the outside centre expected to miss four weeks following finger surgery. 

Mafi, 26, said the halves, as well as Hodge, had been playing with confidence.

"Footie is doing a really good job in instilling a lot of confidence into the boys, particularly our game managers in Carter (Gordon), Ryan Louwrens and Bobby Tuttle and Reece Hodge," Mafi said on Tuesday.

"It trickles down from them into the rest of the team, with our shape and how we want to move the ball and play our footy.

"We've been able to showcase that - that we can score when we're given opportunities - we want to swing the ball and have some fun and play footy that's inspiring.

"That's the default we want to fall back on even when things don't go right."

Queensland born and bred, Mafi decided he needed a change when his 2022 season was drastically cut short after suffering a neck injury in round two against the NSW Waratahs.

He felt that challenging himself at Rebels, training against another World Cup hooker hopeful in Jordan Uelese as well as highly rated Kiwi Anaru Rangi was improving his game.

Every day is really good competition here and coming in every day and rubbing shoulders with Jordie and Anaru has been really good for my own game and for theirs as well - the competitive, and positive, environment is helping us all bring our games along," Mafi  said.

The Reds are coming off a hard-fought win over the Fijian Drua and Mafi said he expected a stiff challenge against his former side but the Rebels were desperate for another victory.

"They have a really good front row - they're a young bunch, which means they've got a lot of energy and they've been playing some pretty good rugby," he said.

"(Hooker Matt Faessler) has been really good at his line-out and he gets around the park really well, quite a quick fella.

"This game means a lot to us in terms of our season, and we're just really focused on getting that win."