Super Rugby Match Preview
Saturday 14th July
Highlanders vs Rebels
Venue: Forsyth-Barr Stadium, Dunedin
Kick-off: 17h15 local time, 06h15 GMT, 08h15 SA Time
Referee: Glen Jackson
Assistant Referees: Paul Williams, Brendon Pickerill
TMO: Chris Hart
Sharks supporters will be watching this game very carefully. If the Highlanders beat the Rebels and the Sharks beat the Jaguares in Durban, the South Africans will dispossess the Australians of the 8th log spot and the final place in the quarterfinals. From the Sharks perspective, it is critical for the Highlanders to win this game.
For the Rebels, of course, this game is equally critical. If they win, they secure qualification for the quarter-finals for the first time in their history.
The Highlanders have a whole different set of choices to make in this game.
I was reading the Rugby Stuff page where some New Zealanders like to talk rugby. A couple of them were speculating that if the Highlanders had any sense, they would lose this game against the Rebels. If they lose, they fly to Australia to play the Waratahs in the quarterfinal next week. If they win, they have to fly to Johannesburg to face the Lions at Ellis Park.
All the participants agreed that the Highlanders had a much better chance at beating the Waratahs after a short flight from sea-level to sea-level, rather beating the Lions after a long haul to South Africa and playing at the altitude of Ellis Park. Seems like a no-brainer?
I was a little surprised as I had never thought of New Zealanders as people who would deliberately throw a game of rugby. Their pride and tradition runs way too deep, or so I thought………..
Of course, the Highlanders will want to get their machine working again, they have stuttered and stumbled a bit of late, and they need to get those wheels turning again if they want to have a chance beyond the quarters, so it is unlikely that they will simply roll over like some pavement mongrel.
The Rebels have not been the perfect model of consistency either. They missed huge opportunity to seal their qualification a week ago, and now they have to win in New Zealand!
Highlanders head coach Aaron Mauger has made numerous changes to his starting line-up.
Thomas Umaga-Jensen has been named to make his Super Rugby debut in the midfield alongside Josh Ioane, who will start for the first time at full-back.
Kayne Hammington comes into the starting number nine jersey and Tevita Li returns to the left wing.
In the forwards, veteran lock Alex Ainley returns to the starting team and joins with new All Blacks, Jackson Hemopo and Shannon Frizell, while James Lentjes captains the team from the openside flank.
Liam Squire moves to the back of the scrum to replace Luke Whitelock, who earns a well-deserved rest along with Ben Smith, Aaron Smith and Rob Thompson.
Meanwhile, Melbourne Rebels head coach Dave Wessels has made four changes to his starting side.
Injuries to full-back Dane Haylett-Petty (knee) and lock Geoff Parling (shoulder) have forced positional and personnel changes from last week’s match against the Reds. Fereti Sa’aga and Sam Talakai earn starting spots in the Rebels’ front-row in place of Tetera Faulkner and Jermaine Ainsley, who have moved to the bench.
Ross Haylett-Petty earns his first start since the Rebels’ Round 10 match against the Bulls, while Jack Maddocks shifts to full-back and Sefa Naivalu moves off the bench and onto the right wing.
Sam Jeffries and Lopeti Timani also make their returns to the matchday 23, as the Rebels opt for a 6-2 bench split.
Captain Adam Coleman (adductor) and scrum-half Will Genia (arm) will spend one more week on the sidelines, however reserve hooker Nathan Charles has shaken off any concussion concerns and will line up on the reserves bench.
Somehow, Highlanders coach Aaron Mauger doesn’t seem to be taking this game too seriously, as he gives plenty of youngsters a chance for a run in the Highlanders colours. They have already qualified for the play-offs, so the result is not really important.
Ben Smith, Aaron Smith, Luke Whitelock, Elliot Dixon, Ash Dixon and Rob Thompson have all been rested.
The ‘Landers have won their last nine games on the trot when hosting teams from Australia They last lost at home to an Aussie outfit in 2014.
This is likely to be Lima Sopoaga’s last game at Forsythe-Barr for a while, and he will want to say goodbye to Dunedin with some style.
The Rebels will look to improve their defence, their tackle success rate is the lowest in the competition, and they are likely to be tested by the likes of Josh Ioane, Waisake Naholo, Teihorangi Walden, and Tevita Li. Lima Sopoaga is also a very capable line-breaker.
Speaking of Sopoaga, he has been on form with the boot, and the Rebels are the most-penalised team in the business. If they cannot maintain their disciplines within range of their posts, it could cost them dearly.
Kiwi outfits will thrive off your mistakes and the Highlanders will punish the Rebels if they continue to miss tackles and concede soft penalties.
Rebels have lost two games on the trot to the Waratahs and Reds respectively, while the Highlanders have also lost two on the trot, although to the vastly higher placed Crusaders and the Chiefs. Both sides will want to stop the rot.
The Highlanders, at home, in front of their own. Not likely to throw the game, I would suggest.
The overall quality of the Highlanders, despite the rookies in the team, will be too much for the Rebels.
The Highlanders, by 10
Highlanders: 15 Josh Ioane, 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Thomas Umaga-Jensen, 12 Teihorangi Walden, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Kayne Hammington, 8 Liam Squire, 7 James Lentjes (c), 6 Shannon Frizell, 5 Jackson Hemopo, 4 Alex Ainley, 3 Tyrel Lomax, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Aki Seuili
Replacements: 16 Greg Pleasants-Tate, 17 Daniel Lienert-Brown, 18 Kalolo Tuiloma, 19 Tom Franklin, 20 Dillon Hunt, 21 Josh Renton, 22 Matt Faddes, 23 Josh McKay
Rebels: 15 Jack Maddocks, 14 Sefa Naivalu, 13 Tom English (c), 12 Billy Meakes, 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 Reece Hodge, 9 Michael Ruru, 8 Amanaki Mafi, 7 Colby Fainga’a, 6 Angus Cottrell, 5 Ross Haylett-Petty, 4 Matt Philip, 3 Sam Talakai, 2 Anaru Rangi, 1 Fereti Sa’aga
Replacements: 16 Nathan Charles, 17 Tetera Faulkner, 18 Jermaine Ainsley, 19 Sam Jeffries, 20 Richard Hardwick, 21 Harrison Goddard, 22 Jack Debreczeni, 23 Lopeti Timani