The Melbourne Rebels will enter Saturday’s clash against the top of the table Chiefs welcoming back Wallabies prop Sam Talakai.
Talakai’s inclusion is one of two changes to last week’s Starting XV, with the versatile Tuaina Taii Tualima replacing Josh Canham, who is unavailable through concussion.
The tourists will receive another boost to their on-field leadership stocks, with the experienced Anaru Rangi named for his first appearance since returning to the Club last June.
The inclusion of the former Players’ Player will strengthen an already formidable front row pack boasting Wallabies’ trio Sam Talakai, Pone Fa’amuasili and Matt Gibbon, while Alex Mafi and Cabous Eloff have also impressed this season.
Towering lock, Angelo Smith, will provide late game support, named on the bench alongside Ekuasi, Tuttle, Ripley and last week’s debutant, David Feliuai.
The Rebels will travel to Waikato full of confidence following last week’s gusty win over the Waratahs at AAMI Park.
After jumping out to an eleven-point half time lead, Melbourne overcame a powerful second-half charge from NSW, before breaking away with an impressive seven-point point victory, registering their first win of the 2023 Harvey Norman Super Rugby Pacific season.
Richard Hardwick continued his early season onslaught, claiming his third try of the new season while combining with back-row teammates Brad Wilkin and Josh Kemeny for an outstanding 39 tackles.
Arguably the most in-form back-rower in Australia, Hardwick was clinical around the ruck, repeatedly beating the Waratahs at the breakdown.
Meanwhile, emerging playmaker, Carter Gordon, submitted another impressive performance himself, helping swiftly swing momentum with a brilliant 50-22, before scoring his third try of the season, ultimately sealing Friday night’s memorable win.
Stacey Ili enjoyed a strong outing at 12, with his speed, power and on-field communication leading to a number of dominant drives forward. The Samoan International would finish with a game-high 13 carries.
Ili said the Rebels were excited for Saturday’s challenge.
“We’ve trained really hard this week, to sharpen up on a few things and keep the momentum going,” said Ili.
“It was good to get our first win in front of our fans. A couple of weeks before, we felt we left points out there, which felt deflating especially when you think you probably should’ve come away with the win. Getting that result on Friday, coming in on Monday felt a lot better.
“This will be a good test for us, and the boys honestly can’t wait to get stuck in.
“Saturday will provide an opportunity to see where we are at as a team; to test ourselves against a team who have been playing really well with Brad Weber and Damian McKenzie driving them around.
“Obviously when we met last year it was a really tight game, but this year brings a new challenge and we’re up for that.”
The Melbourne Rebels face the Chiefs in Round 4 of the Harvey Norman Super Rugby Pacific competition. The match kicks off at 2:35 pm AEDT on Saturday, March 18 at FMG Stadium, Waikato. Catch the clash on Stan Sports ad-free, live and on-demand.
Melbourne Rebels Match Day 23 vs Chiefs
1. Matt Gibbon
2. Alex Mafi
3. Sam Talakai
4. Tuaina Taii Tualima
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. Anaru Rangi
17. Cabous Eloff
18. Pone Fa’amausili
19. Vaiolini Ekuasi
20. Angelo Smith
21. James Tuttle
22. David Feliuai
23. Lukas Ripley