Round 5 of Super Rugby AU sees a traditional powerhouse fighting for their future, two clubs on the rise and a new title favourite back at home.
In Friday night’s opening clash, Melbourne Rebels play host to the NSW Waratahs in what shapes a do-or-die clash for Rob Penney’s visitors.
The embattled Waratahs must take at least four points away from AAMI Park to keep their fading finals hopes alive after losing their opening three matches and will be eager to celebrate prop Harry Johnson-Holmes 50th Super Rugby cap in style.
However, the Rebels will enter the contest as firm favourites after last-week’s drought-breaking win over the Western Force and two impressive showings on the road against the Reds and Brumbies.
Furthermore, Friday night’s clash marks Melbourne’s first home game in over 600 days and a 8,000-strong crowd is expected to spur the Rebels on.
Rebels coach Dave Wessels had made just one change to his starting line-up with Steve Cummins replacing the suspended Ross Haylett-Petty while former Force and Sunwolves lock Sam Wykes is set for his NSW debut off the bench.
Cabous Eloff, James Hanson, Pone Faamausili, Steve Cummins, Trevor Hosea, Joshua Kemeny, Richard Hardwick, Michael Wells, Joe Powell, Matt To’omua (c), Marika Koroibete, Reece Hodge, Stacey Ili, Lachie Anderson, Tom Pincus
Jordan Uelese, Matt Gibbon, Lucio Sordoni, Tom Nowlan, Rob Leota, James Tuttle, Glen Vaihu, Frank Lomani
Jordan Uelese, Rob Leota, Matt Gibbon
Ross Haylett-Petty (suspended), Ed Craig, Isaac Aedo Kailea
Harry Johnson-Holmes, David Porecki, Tetera Faulkner, Hugh Sinclair, Sam Caird, Lachie Swinton, Carlo Tizzano, Jack Dempsey, Jack Grant, Will Harrison, James Ramm, Tepai Moeroa, Alex Newsome (c), Jack Maddocks, Mark Nawaqanitawase
Tom Horton, George Francis, Darcy Breen, Sam Wykes, Jeremy Williams, Henry Robertson, Tane Edmed, Lalakai Foketi
George Francis, Darcy Breen, Sam Wykes, Lalakai Foketi
Sio Tatola, Chris Talakai, Jack Whetton, Triston Reilly
In Saturday’s showdown, Queensland Reds will be gunning for top spot when they host the Western Force at Suncorp Stadium.
A win would see Brad Thorn’s men leapfrog the Brumbies into top spot and pole position to host the Super AU final in May.
The Reds are unbeaten in 2021 and bested Tim Sampson’s side in both meetings during Super Rugby AU 2020, including a 57-5 win in Round 8 – their second-biggest win in Super Rugby history.
Queensland have also won their last six regular season Super Rugby games on the bounce and will equal their all-time consecutive wins record with another victory over the Force.
While the odds are stacked against them, the Force remain a dangerous foe and will take plenty of confidence from a drought-breaking win over NSW and last week’s near miss against the Rebels.
It’s a milestone game for Force prop Greg Holmes, who will bring up his 150th cap against his former club, while teenage halfback Kalani Thomas is tipped to make his Reds debut off the pine.
Dane Zander, Alex Mafi, Taniela Tupou, Angus Blyth, Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, Angus Scott-Young, Fraser McReight, Harry Wilson, Tate McDermott, James O’Connor (c), Ilaisa Droasese, Hunter Paisami, Jordan Petaia, Suliasi Vunivalu, Jock Campbell
Brandon Paenga-Amosa, Harry Hoopert, Zane Nonggorr, Ryan Smith, Seru Uru, Kalani Thomas, Hamish Stewart, Bryce Hegarty
Kalani Thomas, Hamish Stewart, Ilaisa Droasese
Moses Sorovi, Josh Flook, Filipo Daugunu
Tom Robertson, Feleti Kaitu’u, Greg Holmes, Jeremy Thrush, Sitaleki Timani, Fergus Lee-Warner, Kane Koteka, Brynard Stander (c), Tomas Cubelli, Jake McIntyre, Richard Kahui, Henry Taefu, Tevita Kuridrani, Byron Ralston, Robert Kearney
Jack Winchester, Angus Wagner, Santiago Medrano, Ryan McCauley, Tim Anstee, Ian Prior, Jack McGregor, Marcel Brache
Tim Anstee, Marcel Brache
Tomas Lezana, Toni Pulu