Rebels vs Highlanders: Coleman and Hodge return, Highlanders rest stars

Super Rugby
Beth Newman Profile
by AAP & Beth Newman

Wallabies Adam Coleman and Reece Hodge will return via the bench when the Melbourne Rebels host the Highlanders in Super Rugby at AAMI Park.

The duo missed Melbourne's round one win with lock Coleman sidelined with a calf injury and centre Hodge recovering from a fractured ankle, with the Reels having a round two bye.

The Rebels have made two changes to their starting side for Friday night's showdown with flanker Brad Wilkin relegating Richard Hardwick to the reserves and tight-head prop Sam Talakai replacing Jermaine Ainsley in the starting line-up.

That Coleman and Hodge are able to ease their way back in off the bench reflects the Rebels' depth and coach Dave Wessels said it was a chance to reward the players who earned retention after a round one win over the Brumbies.

"We want to be true to the fact that we're rewarding guys who compete in everything and want to be there and show desire to want to play and I think we've stayed true to that," he said.

"I thought the guys who played against the Brumbies, a lot of them deserved to retain their spots and in some instances we've made changes because it's pretty hard to split between two guys so we're giving somebody else an opportunity. We're excited for Friday night."

Adam Coleman has missed the past two matches. Photo: Getty ImagesWessels said Coleman and Hodge were at full fitness despite the disrupted preseason.

"Probably the biggest thing for us is just that the way that those guys have competed in their rehab to get to the level where the are," he said.

"Both of them have hit some personal best fitness markers which is sometimes not easy when you're in a different environment, you're not training with the main team and then to have them back in training for the last two weeks has been pretty special.

"We're working hard to try and create an environment where guys are just working hard to compete every day with each other, get better themselves but also get better with the people around them so I think Adam and Reece deserve their selection for having done that."

The Rebels could benefit from All Blacks player welfare stipulations after the Highlanders overhauled their side for Friday's clash.

Only five players who started last week's 36-31 victory over the Queensland Reds in Dunedin will run out again for the Highlanders in Melbourne.

Coach Aaron Mauger's hand is forced, either through injury or the requirement that he limit the game time of his Test players.

Under an agreement between New Zealand Rugby and the Kiwi Super Rugby coaches, no All Blacks player should total more than 180 minutes of play through the first three rounds.

It has resulted in fullback Ben Smith, halfback Aaron Smith, No.8 Luke Whitelock and hooker Liam Coltman being omitted completely after their involvement in wins over the Chiefs and Reds.

Hooker Ash Dixon is skipper in the absence of co-captains Ben Smith and Whitelock, while there are three bench players in line to make Super Rugby debuts - hooker Ricky Jackson, prop Josh Iosefo-Scott and halfback Folau Fakatava.

Former Blues five-eighth Bryan Gatland, the son of Wales coach Warren Gatland, will start and make his Highlanders debut. He replaces Josh Ioane, who shifts to fullback.

Elliot Dixon will start at No.8 in his first appearance of the season, with the former All Blacks loose forward having joined the Highlanders late after a club stint in Japan.

The Highlanders have only lost once in seven meetings with the Rebels, who had a bye last week after they opened their campaign with a 34-27 upset of the Brumbies in Canberra.

The last meeting between the Highlanders and Rebels came in the final round last year with a 43-37 for the hosts in Dunedin to deprive their Australian opponents a maiden appearance in the finals.

The Rebels take on the Highlanders at AAMI Park on Friday March 1, kicking off at 7:45pm AEDT, LIVE on FOX SPORTS and via RUGBY.com.au RADIO. Buy tickets here.

TEAMS

IN: Adam Coleman, Reece Hodge

OUT:  Esei Haangana, Semisi Tupou

Rebels to face Highlanders

1. Tetera Faulkner

2. Anaru Rangi

3. Sam Talakai

4. Luke Jones

5. Matt Philip

6. Angus Cottrell

7. Brad Wilkin

8. Isi Naisarani

9. Will Genia

10. Quade Cooper

11. Marika Koroibete

12. Billy Meakes

13. Tom English

14. Jack Maddocks

15. Dane Haylett-Petty

Reserves

16. Robbie Abel

17. Matt Gibbon

18. Jermaine Ainsley

19. Adam Coleman

20. Richard Hardwick

21. Rob Leota

22. Michael Ruru

23. Reece Hodge

Highlanders to face Rebels

IN: Pari Pari Parkinson, James Lentjies, Elliot Dixon, Bryn Gatland, Josh Iosefa-Scott, Josh McKay, Thomas Umaga-Jensen, Ricky Jackson, Tom Franklin, Folau Fakatava

OUT: Dillon Hunt, Liam Coltman, Tyrel Lomax, Josh Dickson, Aaron Smith, Tevita Li, Rob Thompson, Jack Whetton, Matt Faddes

1. Daniel Lienert-Brown

2. Ash Dixon

3. Siate Tokolahi

4. Jackson Hemopo

5. Pari Pari Parkinson

6. Shannon Frizell

7. James Lentjes

8. Elliot Dixon

9. Kayne Hammington

10. Bryn Gatland

11. Josh McKay

12. Teihorangi Walden

13. Thomas Umaga-Jensen

14. Waisake Naholo

15. Josh Ioane

Reserves

16. Ricky Jackson

17. Ayden Johnstone

18. Josh Iosefa-Scott

19. Tom Franklin

20. Marino Mikaele Tu'u

21. Folau Fakatava

22. Patelesio Tomkinson

23. Marty Banks