The first match of the season for the Melbourne Rebels has finally arrived. New head coach Tony McGahan has announced his squad to take on the Cheetahs tomorrow night at AAMI Park in Melbourne from 7:40pm, and there is a batch of new faces to get used to.
Unsurprisingly, the set of backs and halves McGahan has selected is very similar to the ones many armchair experts had been picking for the Rebels, and it includes All Black Tamati Ellison starting at outside centre as well as experienced Wallaby Luke Burgess and young flyer Bryce Hegarty -- a combination which is surely going to get Rebels fans intrigued.
The point of difference comes in the front pack, where 24 year-old Pat Leafa will begin at starting hooker. Shota Horie and Tom Sexton have both pulled up with injury, meaning the highly-touted New Zealand-born Australian will get the opening gig. Championship winning former Chiefs prop Toby Smith will begin at no.1, while in the flankers position, 19 year-old former Rugby Sevens player Sean McMahon will debut at blindside.
Ben Meehan, Steve Fualau, Colby Fainga'a, Tom Kingston and Max Lahiff will make their Melbourne Rebels debuts off the bench.
The Cheetahs have just come off a hard fought victory last week in dour conditions at Vodacom Park. The slippery, muddy grounds made it hard for them to get any solid play going for the entire game, and relied on penalties from scrappy moments to get points on the board.
This week, in what is sure to be much nicer conditions at AAMI Park, the Rebels must keep an eye on star South African fullback Willie le Roux, who will love to lap up the clean open areas of the ground. It has been an objective of Tony McGahan to improve the Rebels defence, and straight away this is going to be a big test to see how far they've improved in pre-season. The Cheetahs pack hold a 36kg advantage to the Rebels, and captain Adriaan Strauss is the man to watch out for in the scrum at hooker. Pat Leafa is going to have to keep on his toes against the man with 33 Springboks caps.
SQUAD: 1. Toby Smith, 2. Pat Leafa, 3. Laurie Weeks, 4. Hugh Pyle, 5. Luke Jones, 6. Sean McMahon, 7. Scott Fuglistaller, 8. Scott Higginbotham (C), 9. Luke Burgess, 10. Bryce Hegarty, 11. Tom English, 12. Mitch Inman, 13. Tamati Ellison, 14. Lachlan Mitchell, 15. Jason Woodward
Subs: 16. Steve Fualau, 17. Max Lahiff, 18. Paul Alo-Emile, 19. Cadeyrn Neville, 20. Colby Fainga’a, 21. Ben Meehan, 22. Angus Roberts, 23. Tom Kingston
This match is a case of the Rebels coming up against a team they'd love to emulate -- a side who has come from difficult times to making the finals last year. How will the Rebels go against the Cheetahs? Has Tony McGahan made the correct choices in his starting line up?