Rebels’ Mortlock to start in Super Rugby
A frustrated Stirling Mortlock will do all he can to overcome injury and enjoy a home swansong on Friday night but the Melbourne Rebels are wary about giving in to sentiment.
And Queensland Reds coach Ewen McKenzie has warned the former Wallabies skipper not to ruin the rest of his farewell season by risking himself in their Super Rugby clash at AAMI Park.
Mortlock was on Thursday named at inside centre but was rested from training and is in extreme doubt after yet another calf strain.
The 35-year-old has endured a glittering yet injury-affected career over 15 years and his body has failed him once again before a major occasion.
“My whole career has been plagued by injuries and it looks like it’s played a part in my farewell home performance,” he told Melbourne radio station Gold 104.3.
“It’s very frustrating … but nonetheless I’ll try everything we can to get out there and play.
“I’m in the lap of the rugby gods.”
Rebels’ coach Damien Hill said medical staff remained “reasonably optimistic” about Mortlock lining up and he’d be given until kick-off to prove his fitness.
But he has already earmarked two contingency plans with Lachie Mitchell poised to replace the 80-Test veteran in a straight swap, if conditions are damp, and a backline reshuffle to result on a dry night.
That would result in Julian Huxley, another Rebels’ pioneer to be farewelled, slotting in at fullback, forcing Kurtley Beale to five-eighth where James O’Connor has been named to make his return from a lacerated liver.
Beale and O’Connor working in tandem on a dry night, no matter where they line up, will provide the Reds – requiring three straight wins to make the play-offs – with headaches in defence.
“I’m waiting to see the conditions a bit as well but we’re comfortable with both (options),” Hill told AAP.
“While what (Mortlock) has done for the game is amazing, and what he’s done with the club is very good as well, you can’t get tied up too much in that sentiment.
“He’s got to play 80 minutes, or a good portion thereof, and he’s got to be right with that in his head.”
Defending champions Queensland are certain to mercilessly test out Mortlock if he plays, with Quade Cooper able to use his mesmerising footwork and Digby Ioane his speed and brute force in the midfield channels.
McKenzie started his coaching career at the Brumbies in 1998 when Mortlock debuted and expects he’ll make the right call and put the team first.
“We all get excited about the last home game etc but they’ve got a couple more games to go in South Africa,” he told AAP.
“You can ruin yourself and miss out on the last two games.”© AAP 2013
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