The Rebels‘ difficult start to 2017 gets even tougher with the visit to AAMI Park tonight of the unbeaten, high-flying Chiefs. Join The Roar for live scores and a blog of the match, starting from 7:45pm AEDT.
The Chiefs, a side who many pundits expect to go all the way in this year’s competition, are indeed a formidable test for a home side bound to be low on confidence and still missing a number of their best players through injury.
The Rebels have already leaked 18 tries in two matches against the Blues and Hurricanes, and with home fans gravely concerned about the disparity between New Zealand and Australian teams, there will be collective breaths held that the tries conceded tally isn’t substantially increased.
Despite their travails however, the Rebels are a proud outfit that are well coached, so, despite the stern opposition, fans should expect an improved showing from them.
There are four changes from the Hurricanes match – two in the front row, where Laurie Weeks returns and local player Fereti Sa’aga makes his debut at prop.
With Lopeti Timani missing due to a leg injury, Culum Retallick returns at lock to mark his brother Brodie.
Harlequins lock Murray Douglas has been elevated from club rugby to take a spot on the bench; a massive step up in class but a wonderful opportunity for him.
The news in the backline is brighter with long time Fijian friends Sefanaia Naivalu and Marika Koroibete lining up together for the first time on the wings.
There are changes for the Chiefs too; Sabastian Siataga earning a start at hooker and, with James Lowe out this week, a debut for winger Solomon Alaimalo.
Damien McKenzie shifts to 10, perhaps an indicator that the All Blacks selectors have put in a word, with an eye to Aaron Cruden’s impending shift to France.
This frees up an opportunity for the talented Shaun Stevenson to get a start at fullback, with Cruden taking a spot on the bench.
It is hard to envisage anything other than a comfortable Chiefs victory; more than that if they are allowed to get their high paced ensemble game functioning.
For their part the Rebels will know the importance of making their first up tackles and competing hard at the breakdown.
If the Rebels are passive and allow the Chiefs to come at them, they will be swamped, so they have no option but to be assertive and try to disrupt the Chiefs from playing on their terms, and – if that wasn’t hard enough – try to stay in the fight for all 80 minutes.
It is hard to know what impact this week’s uncertainty and speculation about the future of the franchise will have had on the mindset of the Rebels players; although it is fair to suggest that any negative impact can only be on them and not on the Chiefs.
All signs point to an entertaining match and a comprehensive win for the classy visitors.
Chiefs by 36.
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