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The Rebels’ Round 3 bye week arguably came at the perfect time for them to look at themselves after two heavy losses to New Zealand sides.
But their return to action won’t get any easier as they face the form team in the competition, the Chiefs, who have won three on games in a row.
Indeed it’s been an impressive start from Dave Rennie’s side as despite several leaving the Hamilton franchise at the end of the season, they seem a happy camp that can possibly go all the way. Departing half-backs Tawera Kerr-Barlow and Aaron Cruden have been two standouts.
In truth everyone’s going nicely so far for the two-time Super Rugby champions but Rennie is keen to rotate this week as Cruden moves to the bench, with Damian McKenzie at fly-half and the dangerous Shaun Stevenson coming in at 15. Hooker Sabastian Siataga also gets a start.
As mentioned, the form book suggests a Chiefs victory and the fact they have won four of the five previous meetings between the sides adds weight to that. Add in the Rebels having conceded 212 points in their last three games with New Zealand teams and the Chiefs are favourite.
Furthermore, the Rebels last snatched a win against a Kiwi outfit way back in Round 13 of 2015 (vs Blues), losing seven such games since.
The Chiefs in contrast have won on three of their last four trips to Australia, including a 50-5 victory over the Reds on their last visit in Round 16 of 2016, with the prospect of McKenzie at fly-half throwing in that extra bit of excitement over how they could perform.
Yes, they are without James Lowe on the wing, but there is sufficient quality, confidence and experience to see them come out on top in Melbourne.
The last time these teams met: The Chiefs got their revenge for a 2015 loss with a 36-15 victory in Hamilton last year. First-half tries from Seta Tamanivalu, Nathan Harris, Toni Pulu and Aaron Cruden set them on their way before Andrew Horrell made sure of the win in the second period. For the Rebels, Mike Harris and Reece Hodge went over after the turnaround to give the scoreline a touch of respectability.
Rebels: 15 Jack Debreczeni, 14 Sefa Naivalu, 13 Tom English, 12 Reece Hodge, 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 Jackson Garden-Bachop, 9 Nic Stirzaker (c), 8 Amanaki Mafi, 7 Colby Fainga’a, 6 Jordy Reid, 5 Steve Cummins, 4 Culum Retallick, 3 Laurie Weeks, 2 James Hanson, 1 Fereti Sa’aga
Replacements: 16 Pat Leafa, 17 Cruze Ah-Nau, 18 Tyrel Lomax, 19 Murray Douglas, 20 Jake Schatz, 21 Ben Meehan, 22 Sione Tuipulotu, 23 Ben Volavola
Chiefs: 15 Shaun Stevenson, 14 Toni Pulu, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Stephen Donald, 11 Solomon Alaimalo, 10 Damian McKenzie, 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Liam Messam, 7 Sam Cane (cc), 6 Tom Sanders, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Dominic Bird, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Sabastian Siataga, 1 Kane Hames
Replacements: 16 Hika Elliot, 17 Siegfried Fisi’ihoi, 18 Atu Moli, 19 Mitchell Brown, 20 Mitchell Karpik, 21 Finlay Christie, 22 Aaron Cruden (cc), 23 Johnny Faauli