Hopefully Jake White’s advice to Dave Wessels this week included running plenty of Melbourne traffic at Jack Debreczeni.
White called his fellow South African following the Rebels’ humiliation at the hands of the Crusaders in Christchurch last Saturday, when the defending champions hammered the visitors 66-0.
Sharp and astute, White coached the Springboks to World Cup glory in 2007 and had success more recently at the Brumbies.
He was keen to relay his thoughts on how the Rebels can limp into the Super Rugby finals with victory over the Chiefs in Melbourne tonight in the final round of the regular season.
It would take a massive turnaround for the Rebels to qualify for their first Super Rugby finals given their poor form while the Chiefs, whose season was just about a write-off as early as the end of April, can also sneak into the playoffs with a win thanks to a late surge.
If White was offering tips on which Chiefs players to target defensively, then there’s a good chance that Debreczeni was high on the list.
Debreczeni will start at five-eighth for the Chiefs in somewhat of a homecoming at AAMI Park tonight given he played at the Rebels for the last five seasons.
In fact, after a short stint in Japan in 2017-18, Debreczeni returned to the Rebels for the start of last season, just as Wessels took over as head coach in Melbourne.
So White probably didn’t need to tell Wessels that Debreczeni’s main deficiency is he’s not the most rugged defender.
He’s a very skilful ball-player, boasts a huge boot, is a solid goal-kicker and is pretty quick for a big No.10. But if you’re looking to bend the defensive line, then Debreczeni is a decent target.
Debreczeni will often line up in defence next to halfback Brad Weber, who is jockey-sized but brave. Like Debreczeni, he will make tackles, but he’s rarely going to stop ball-carriers dead in their tracks.
So a smart ploy would be to send lots of ball-runners towards Debreczeni and Weber. Who is best suited for the job? Isi Naisarani and Marika Koroibete.
They are the two that can get the Rebels on the front foot and then Will Genia and Quade Cooper can look to open up the gaps when the Chiefs are back-pedalling.
Koroibete’s aggressive charges have been a highlight for the Rebels over the past month. He’s a fearless ball-runner who when he gets his legs pumping is damn hard to stop.
He loves the collisions too, so Wessels should be looking to use Koroibete running off Cooper, especially from quick lineout ball.
Naisarani, from No.8, can also get the Rebels over the advantage line if he can isolate Debreczeni and Weber.
He has proven to be a tough one to take down and fights for every metre in attack.
Chiefs flanker Sam Cane will be ready to protect his halves, and it’s hardly a surprise that the All Blacks forward’s return from a neck injury has coincided with the Chiefs putting together some crucial wins. But the speed of Naisarani means that Cane might find it tough to always help Weber out, particularly around the scrum base.
The return of Brodie Retallick from a wrist injury also means that the Chiefs will have another classy forward eager to put their hand up for work if the Rebels attempt to target Debreczeni and Weber in phase play.
The Waikato-based side are ranked joint-fourth for points scored this season, but they’ve also conceded the second-most points in the competition.
Alex Nankivell is another Chiefs player that the Rebels might look to pinpoint for special attention. He will line up at inside centre and while he’s a talented midfielder, the 22-year-old is relatively inexperienced in Super Rugby.
On top of Wessels and White trying to break down the Chiefs, it will be a good test for Rebels attack coach Shaun Berne. He’s a chance of being named as the Wallabies attack coach in place of Stephen Larkham, but after he had the Rebels backline firing early in the season, they’ve been ordinary in recent times when they’ve had a number of chances to lock in a finals spot.
After being thrashed by the Crusaders, it will be intriguing to see how the Rebels respond. Resting Genia and starting Cooper on the bench last round, Wessels was always targeting the Chiefs match to turn it on.
Second-rower Adam Coleman, who has a shoulder injury, won’t be on board while winger Jack Maddocks has been rested due to a calf strain.
Maddocks was caught out a number of times in defence against the Crusaders, as was fullback Dane Haylett-Petty. Reece Hodge will replace Maddocks on the wing while Tom English will partner Billy Meakes in the centres.
The Rebels’ result should be regarded as a crucial one for Australian rugby too. In 2015, when the Waratahs and Brumbies were knocked out in the semi-finals, the Wallabies won the abbreviated Rugby Championship and went on to make the World Cup final. Not since then has two Australian sides qualified for the Super Rugby playoffs.
If the Rebels lose, a solid chunk of Wallabies in the Melbourne squad won’t play a top-level match in over a month.
Add the Wallabies squad members from the Waratahs and Reds to that group and it will likely mean a slow start to their five-Test World Cup build-up.
Over the past three years when only one Australian team has made the Super Rugby finals, the All Blacks have flogged the Wallabies in each of the first three Bledisloe Tests.
“We were pretty embarrassed about our performance last week,” Wessels said during the week.
“It’s showtime now for us.”