The Melbourne Rebels this week will host the current Super Rugby competition leaders, the Sharks, at AAMI Park on Friday night in the Sharks first game outside of South Africa this season.
The game proves to be a pivotal match-up for the Rebels after claiming a victory against an in-form Western Force outfit two weeks ago before their bye, and will look to take another big scalp this round.
The general consensus from rugby fans seems to revolve around uncertainty towards the Sharks and their ability to travel. The Sharks will spend the entire month of May in Australia and New Zealand after playing the first four matches for the season and seven of the first nine games at their home stadium.
They have proven that they are a good home side, but traveling to Melbourne is a different kettle of fish. The Rebels have shown that they are a force to be reckoned with at home.
While the Rebels may not seem as strong as other teams, they have lost only one of their four home games this year (a six point loss to the Crusaders in round 5) and have continually improved throughout the duration of the year.
Coach Tony McGahan's young side have brought their youthful exuberance to the team and have played with high energy in the majority of their encounters. This will need to be maintained by the Rebels in order to challenge the stingy Sharks defence, who are currently the best in the league.
Playing with an undermanned backline, the Sharks have still managed to hold back their oppositions on most occasions this year (an exception, perhaps, for last weeks encounter against the Highlanders in which they conceded four tries).
Their pack has shown to be one of the strongest set of forwards, and with a player like "Beast" Mtawarira at prop alongside Bismarck and Jannie du Plessis, there is no wonder why. Add to that Willem Alberts and Stephan Lewies at lock, the impressive young Marcell Coetzee at blindside, and Jean Deysel and Ryan Kankowski peeling off the scrum, and you have a 227-cap South African forward pack.
The Rebels will need to be able to physically match the strength and brutality of the Sharks forwards, but same goes for the backline. JP Pietersen and Odwa Ndungane combined for a little under 200kg by themselves on the wings, and while the Rebels wingers in Tom English and Male Sau actually combine for a little bit more, they don't match the South Africans on experience.
The Rebels will need to be careful when the likes of Pietersen, Ndungane and the ever-dangerous threat of Lwazi Mvovo get a chance to run at the defence, and similar defensive tactics to what was seen against the Force a fortnight ago will need to be employed by Melbourne in this match.
Melbourne's defence held up very well against the Force, and they were able to counter brilliantly through the much more prevalent, physical help of the forwards in Luke Jones, Shota Horie and Colby Fainga'a.
One could say the performance shown by the Rebels against the Force two weeks ago was prime preparation for the gameplan needed to take on the Sharks this week.
The Sharks are still without star playmaker Patrick Lambie, and Francois Steyn comes back into the starting side at flyhalf, relegating Tim Swiel to outside the 23-man squad.
HAVE YOUR SAY: Can the Rebels do it again and beat one of the top teams of the competition? Does their home record help them? How well do you think the Sharks will go on their Australiasian tour? Are the Sharks the real deal, or will they crumble in the away games?
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