'He's someone I'll single out': Philip to target Mafi as Rebels chase finals

Super Rugby
by Emma Greenwood

Rebels lock Matt Philip has singled out former teammate Amanaki Mafi as the man to stop if the Rebels are to reignite their Super Rugby finals dream in Tokyo.

Philip, who will team with the returning Adam Coleman in the second row, believes halting his former teammate could be the key to stopping the Sunwolves and has taken it upon himself to become the Rebels enforcer.

Mafi left the Rebels in disgrace last year after an alleged assault on former teammate Lopeti Timani in New Zealand, with the incident still before the courts.

But Philip said there was no bad blood, with Mafi's targeting due to his outstanding ability as a ball-carrier for the Sunwolves rather than an off-field villain.

"I think Mafi can be a big source of energy for a team," Philip said.

"He's obviously a really good ball carrier, so he's probably someone I'll single out for myself to make sure that every time he gets the ball, to focus on hitting him early and probably stamp him out of the game pretty early as well.

"If we can stop Mafi, I think that could be a bit of an entry point to getting into their game (and stopping) that go-forward he brings."

Matt Philip is expecting the Waratahs to be "hissing" on Saturday. Photo: Getty Images

Philip said the Dunedin incident - in which Mafi and his brother are alleged to have bashed Timani last July - had not been "brushed aside" by the Rebels but his former teammates were forgiving.

"We've all spent a lot of time with Mafi. He's made his mistakes obviously but everyone makes mistakes as well," Philip said.

"He's still got a lot of friends here in this group. He was  good guy for the most time he was here, he just made one mistake and we can't hold everything against him for that one mistake.

"People are going to make mistakes.

"There's not going to be any bad blood out there, we're just going to play a good game of rugby.

"We'll attack him just because he's a good rugby player, not for anything else."

Philip has not been tasked with tagging Mafi, rather has taken it on himself to stop the man he believes can spur the Sunwolves' attack.

It's a role Philip takes pride in, modelling his game on the physical efforts of locks like South African great Bakkies Botha.

Former Rebels player Amanki Mafi is set to be a targeted by his former teammates as they attempt to halt the Sunwolves. Photo: Getty Images

"I don't think I've been tasked with (being an enforcer) it's just something that if I was looking at my career, that's something I would like to see my identity as," he said.

"It's more how I want to be seen, not something that any of the coaches have talked to me about.

"It's something that I enjoy doing.

"Watching locks like Bakkies Botha in South Africa - not that I'm saying I'm anything like them - but they're the locks I enjoy watching play.

"So if I can be somewhere along that line when I'm done playing, I'd be pretty satisfied with that."

His Rebels teammates would be satisfied too if it led to a win against the Sunwolves in a crucial conference clash that will go a long way to deciding whether Melbourne make their maiden Super Rugby finals appearance.

"One positive thing about the situation we're in now is the finals are in our control and we're not looking at other teams' results or having to have a few things go our way," Philip said.

 

"It's a position I want to be in and it's a position I want to stay in, so every week, I wouldn't say it's do or die but it's nice to have your finals chances in your control, so as many wins, especially in these conference games are beneficial.

"We've set our goal as a team - we want to make finals and I think we would be disappointed as a group if we don't make finals - and I'll definitely be disappointed.

"We've acknowledged the situation we're in now, the Brumbies are one point ahead of us, so every game counts."

The Rebels take on the Sunwolves in Tokyo on Saturday, May 25, kicking off at at 3:15pm AEST, live on Fox Sports and via RUGBY.com.au radio.