British & Irish Lions
Preview: Rebels v B&I Lions
Mon, 24 Jun 2013 09:38
There is always a chance of pushing for a Test spot
You can instantly tell from the team he has picked that Warren Gatland doesn't fancy seeing his British & Irish Lions being ambushed for a second week in a row in Australia.
That 12-14 defeat to the Brumbies in Canberra last Tuesday not only robbed the 2013 tourists of their unbeaten record, it hurt!
With three games left to play, and a Test series to be clinched, this week's two matches in Melbourne are critically important.
The task begins with the game against the Melbourne Rebels at AAMI Park on Tuesday, before moving on to the vital second Test at the Etihad Stadium at the weekend.
Whereas Gatland quite rightly looked to protect his Test team in Canberra last weekend, sending out a back division that had barely met each other let alone practiced together, the Rebels will find themselves playing against some established tour combinations.
It is the 'Last Chance Saloon', if you like, for Test candidates to make a final impression ahead of selection for the second and third Tests and the players intend to make the most of their opportunity.
"We can't afford another loss because it will hurt the squad hugely," explained Irish wing Simon Zebo.
"It's already hurt us and there were a lot of people upset throughout last week.
"We were lucky to get the win on Saturday coming off a defeat like that, so we can't afford to let that happen again.
"We're all playing for places and we're playing to represent the Lions and you just don't want to be on the losing side. It's pretty vital we don't lose on Tuesday.
"It's not as easy as playing a weekend game, but you're still getting a chance to go out and represent the Lions, which isn't something you can take lightly.
"You would like to think there is always a chance of pushing for a Test spot and that if any player plays out of their skin, or has just one of those special days out on the pitch, then you obviously have a chance. "
That motivation alone should be enough to push the Lions to a victory over a Rebels side that will be led by Welsh international Gareth Delve and that will also feature the returning Wallabies scrumhalf Luke Burgess. This will be the biggest game in their short history and will give them a chance to capture a major scalp.
However, for the second time in just four days, the B&I Lions will come up against a livewire and dangerous flyhalf and fullback combination from the Melbourne region.
Bryce Hegarty and Jason Woodward will follow in the footsteps of teammates James O'Connor and Kurtley Beale and step into the No.10 and No.15 jerseys against the Lions. Beale and O'Connor remain on national duty ahead of the second Test.
In the interim, Hegarty and Woodward get the opportunity to continue their hugely impressive debut Rebels seasons as Victoria gets around the biggest week of Rugby Union this state has ever seen.
For former Brisbane Broncos academy player Hegarty, the opportunity to start against the Lions in front of his home fans is a dream come true.
"I can't wait," Hegarty said.
"Getting here has been a long ride, but a great ride, and I have had a lot of great people around me helping me out. It's game on, I'm very excited and the team is too."
Hegarty started at flyhalf in victories against the Waratahs and Stormers last month, and credits the home support for playing a key role in those record breaking wins.
Woodward moved to Melbourne from Wellington, New Zealand, to chase his Super Rugby dreams at the end of 2012, and admits it is a strange feeling living in a city where Rugby Union isn't the No.1 sport.
"When I first came to Melbourne, a lot of people didn't know that much about Super Rugby; it's such an AFL-oriented city sometime. It's a lot different to back home but to see what a massive impact this club has had on the city, and now to see the impact of a Lions tour with both this game and also the Test this weekend, Victorians have really bought into it and it's a special feeling."
Players to watch:
For the Rebels: You will look to the more established players, like captain Gareth Delve, Hugh Pyle, Laurie Weeks, Ged Robinson, and Nic Henderson. They are the players who must lay the platform for a Rebels upset.
For the British and Irish Lions: You will see who can possibly put up their hands for a spot in the Test matchday squad - Manu Tuilagi, Brad Barritt, Sean O'Brien, Ian Evans, Richie Gray, Dan Cole and Richard Hibbard.
Head to head: While all games are dependant on the quality of the possession provided by the forwards, it is still important what the halfbacks do with it - leaving us with the intriguing contest between Bryce Hegarty and Luke Burgess (Rebels) up against Owen Farrell and Conor Murray (B&I Lions).
These teams have not met before
Prediction: There Rebels' form throughout the Super Rugby season has been patchy, although recent home wins against the Stormers and Waratahs proved there is potential in head coach Damien Hill's outfit. However, there should be too much momentum on the Lions side of the fence for them to slip up again. The B&I Lions to win by 15 to 20 points.
Rebels: 15 Jason Woodward, 14 Tom English, 13 Mitch Inman, 12 Rory Sidey, 11 Lachlan Mitchell, 10 Bryce Hegarty, 9 Luke Burgess, 8 Gareth Delve (captain), 7 Scott Fuglistaller, 6 Jarrod Saffy, 5 Hugh Pyle, 4 Cadeyrn Neville, 3 Laurie Weeks, 2 Ged Robinson, 1 Nic Henderson.
Replacements: 16 Pat Leafa, 17 Cruze Ah-Nau, 18 Paul Alo-Emile, 19 Luke Jones, 20 Jordy Reid, 21 Nic Stirzaker, 22 Angus Roberts, 23 Cooper Vuna.
British and Irish Lions: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Sean Maitland, 13 Manu Tuilagi, 12 Brad Barritt, 11 Simon Zebo, 10 Owen Farrell, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Tangaki Taulupe Faletau, 7 Sean O'Brien, 6 Dan Lydiate (captain), 5 Ian Evans, 4 Richie Gray, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Richard Hibbard, 1 Ryan Grant.
Replacements: 16 Rory Best, 17 Tom Court, 18 Matt Stevens, 19 Tom Croft, 20 Justin Tipuric, 21 Ben Youngs, 22 Billy Twelvetrees, 23 Stuart Hogg.
Date: Tuesday, June 25
Venue: AAMI Park, Melbourne
Kick-off: 19.40 (10.40 UK & Ireland time, 09.40 GMT)
Expected weather: Partly cloudy, with a 20 percent chance of rain. Winds of 15 to 20 km/h. High of 16°C, low of 6°C
Referee: Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Romain Poite (France), Craig Joubert (South Africa)
TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)
lionsrugby.com & rugby365
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