Rebels ring the changes

‘Portrush is like playing at home’ says Jon Rahm

Rebels head coach Tony McGahan has made several changes to his matchday squad for Saturday's clash with the Crusaders in Christchurch.

Hooker James Hanson, fly-half Jack Debreczeni and winger Tom English are the only three players to retain their positions from last weekend’s defeat to the Stormers.

The Rebels have named also two Victorians in their matchday squad for the first time in the club’s history with the inclusions of Sione Tuipulotu and Rob Leota.

Tuipulotu, who has made four appearances for the Rebels, will make his first start since his debut against the Reds in Round Three while the uncapped Leota is a step closer to making his Super Rugby debut after being named on the bench for the first time in his career.

In total, seven changes have been made to the starting 15 with captain Nic Stirzaker, Laurie Weeks, Adam Thomson and Mike Harris returning from injury while Sam Jeffries, Culum Retallick and Tuipulotu have been promoted.

Retallick will make his run-on debut for the Rebels, Weeks returns to the starting line up for the first time after a hamstring injury sidelined the prop since Round 9 and Jeffries makes his third career Super Rugby start.

After starting the last two games at tighthead prop, Toby Smith returns to loosehead while Colby Fainga’a moves to flanker alongside Jordy Reid as Thomson starts at number eight.

Stirzaker and Harris, both unavailable for the Stormers game with ankle injuries, return to scrum-half and full-back, respectively, with Reece Hodge shifted to Inside Centre and Sefa Naivalu to the right wing.

Sean McMahon will miss his first Rebels game since Round 13 2015 while locks Luke Jones and Lopeti Timani have failed to overcome first-half concussions sustained last weekend.

“The inclusion of Sione and Rob is a historic milestone for the Melbourne Rebels and a fitting reward for the hard work of everyone behind the scenes in Victorian Rugby to develop local talent,” said McGahan.

“Unfortunately injuries have been the story of our season, which has made weekly team selection a challenge throughout the year, but it continues to provide opportunities for others.

“Numbers were touch and go at the start of the week but we’re pleased to welcome back a wealth of experience in Nic, Laurie, Adam and Mike for arguably the hardest road trip in Super Rugby against the Crusaders.”

Paul Asquith has retained his spot on the bench after making his debut last weekend and Steve Cummins has been included as a reserve for the first time since Round Two against the Bulls in Pretoria.

The Rebels claimed their only victory on New Zealand soil with a 20-10 win when they last met the Crusaders across the Tasman – the only Australian side to claim victory in Christchurch in 12 years.

Melbourne Rebels: 15 Mike Harris, 14 Sefa Naivalu, 13 Sione Tuipulotu, 12 Reece Hodge, 11 Tom English, 10 Jack Debreczeni, 9 Nic Stirzaker (c), 8 Adam Thomson, 7 Colby Fainga’a, 6 Jordy Reid, 5 Culum Retallick, 4 Sam Jeffries, 3 Laurie Weeks, 2 James Hanson, 1 Toby Smith 
Replacements: 16 Pat Leafa, 17 Cruze Ah Nau, 18 Jamie Hagan, 19 Steve Cummins, 20 Rob Leota, 21 Ben Meehan, 22 Paul Asquith, 23 Jonah Placid

Date: Saturday, July 9
Venue: AMI Stadium, Christchurch
Kick-off: 19:35 local (07:35 GMT)
Referee: Glen Jackson
Assistant Referees: Mike Fraser, Angus Mabey
TMO: Aaron Paterson