Injuries and suspension have wreaked havoc with the Melbourne Rebels’ lineup as they vie for their first-ever win in South Africa.
The Rebels have made five changes to their starting team, three of those forced with Lopeti Timani suspended, Dom Day (back) injured and Colby Faingaa remaining in Melbourne ahead of the birth of his first child.
Norths’ Shute Shield premiership captain Will Miller will be thrown into the Super Rugby cauldron at seven for the Sharks clash, after joining the team just a week ago as injury cover, while Jake Schatz will start for the first time this year.
The Rebels have had their way in the breakdown for much of this season, largely due to Faingaa’s influence, so the new backrow combination will be put to the test immediately.
James Hanson and Laurie Weeks have been shifted to the bench, with a rookie front row of Fereti Saaga, Siliva Siliva and Tyrel Lomax running on.
The young trio were the combination packing down late in the Rebels’ win over the Brumbies, clinching the match-winning scrum penalty.
Melbourne is yet to win in South Africa since the team’s inception in the competition in 2011.
Coach Tony McGahan said it was ‘disappointing’ not to be able to keep the team stable.
“A little bit disappointing to get a good result last week and then try and create some momentum and go back-to-back and that is disrupted,” he said.
“It’s always important to go back-to-back and have some consistency in your play.
“All the young players coming in to that this weekend will be the beneficiaries of that.”
McGahan said there were two key focuses for them ahead of the Durban matchup.
“We need to make sure we have great discipline, we need to make sure that we protect the ball, from a set piece perspective,” he said.
“South Africans are built on the back of that and a really strong kicking game. How we contend with those two areas will be key.”
Prop Toby Smith’s return will have to wait another week, despite the front rower travelling to South Africa in the hope of being fit for this first tour match.
The Rebels take on the Sharks at 3:30am Sunday morning AEST, LIVE on FOX SPORTS.
IN: Jake Schatz, Will Miller, Esei Haangana
OUT: Dominic Day (back), Lopeti Timani (suspension), Colby Faingaa (childbirth)
Rebels team to play the Sharks
1. Fereti Sa’aga
2. Siliva Siliva
3. Tyrel Lomax
4. Culum Retallick
5. Steve Cummins
6. Jake Schatz
7. Will Miller^*
8. Amanaki Mafi
9. Nic Stirzaker (Captain)
10. Jack Debreczeni
11. Marika Koroibete
12. Mitch Inman
13. Tom English
14. Sefa Naivalu
15. Reece Hodge
16. James Hanson
17. Laurie Weeks
18. Tom Moloney
19. Esei Haangana^*
20. Hugh Sinclair^*
21. Mick Snowden
22. Jackson Garden-Bachop
23. Ben Volavola