After five games in the regular season, the Chiefs were rock bottom in the New Zealand conference and lost their star fullback, Damian McKenzie. On the other hand, the Rebels were the form team in the Australian conference.
Having coached a club cut from Super Rugby, Melbourne Rebels mentor Dave Wessels is wary of the Sunwolves in Saturday night’s clash at AAMI Park.
Wessels was at the helm of the Western Force when they were axed from the competition in 2017 and now the Tokyo-based Sunwolves are facing the same fate after next season.
Making only one change to the run-on team that beat the Queensland Reds last round, Wessels said being cut had a “galvanising” effect on all involved at a club.
By upsetting the Waratahs last round, the Sunwolves look like a team playing with a point to prove.
“Having been in this situation myself where a team is cut from the competition, it’s a real galvanising thing,” Wessels said on Thursday.
“It feels like it’s you against the world so it’s a very easy thing to get people up for the contest.
“I expect them to come out and play like a team so it’s real challenge so I’ve put what I consider to be our best team on the field.”
Wessels said he was looking for controlled aggression from his beefed-up forward pack, which includes Luke Jones at blindside flanker and Ross Haylett-Petty on the bench.
In the only change to the team that beat the Reds in Brisbane, Jermain Ainsley starts at tighthead prop for Sam Talakai.
“One of the things we want to do in our game is be confrontational,” Wessels said.
“A big part of rugby is go forward and we feel like those players can give us that, both attack and defence.”
Despite the call to get on the front foot, Wessels didn’t want to see a return to the high penalty count that littered their two losses in South Africa, particularly against Sunwolves sharpshooter Hayden Parker, who is the most accurate goal-kicker in the world.
“He’s a freak, but I think the reality is rugby’s a contact sport and I think one of the things we were disappointed in in our performance against the Sharks is we went away from that real basic cornerstone of the game,” he said.
Melbourne Rebels: Reece Hodge, Jack Maddocks, Tom English, Billy Meakes, Marika Koroibeite, Quade Cooper, Will Genia, Isi Naisarani, Angus Cottrell (capt), Luke Jones, Adam Coleman, Matt Philip, Jermain Ainsley, Anaru Rangi, Tetera Faulkner. Res: Hugh Roach, Matt Gibbon, Matt Gibbon, Pone Fa’amausili, Rob Leota, Michael Ruru, Campbell Magnay, Semisi Tupou.