Melbourne skipper Stirling Mortlock will make his first appearance of the Super Rugby season in some much-needed good news for the Rebels.
After losing Wallaby star James O’Connor to long-term injury and then five-eighth Danny Cipriani’s shock decision to return to England, Mortlock’s comeback match against the powerful Bulls on Friday night at AAMI Park couldn’t be better timed.
Mortlock, who turns 35 next month, hasn’t played due to ongoing calf problems but was able to get through an intensive running session and is set to lead his team again.
“He ran really well and he’ll take part this week, all things being equal,” said Rebels coach Damien Hill.
Mortlock is set to replace O’Connor, who suffered liver damage in their last match against NSW at No.12 while Mitch Inman will play 13 after his recovery from a broken hand.
“I’m not sure whether he will be starting or off the bench but he’s ticked every box he needs to tick,” Hill said.
The Bulls, who like the Rebels, are coming off the bye, have only lost two games this season to sit second on the overall ladder.
Hill said the experience of Mortlock will be vital.
“There’s no substituting for 15 years’ experience at this level,” he said.
“He’s one of the most competitive players that I’ve ever come across and he’s our captain so it will be beneficial for him to rejoin our team.”
Kurtley Beale is likely to start at five-eighth in the absence of Cipriani and O’Connor.
“We’ve got a number of options at 10,” Hill said.
“Kurtley had a very big impact when he came on (against NSW) so that’s what we’re weighing up.”
The Rebels’ stocks in the flanker department are at an all-time low, with Tom Chamberlain still feeling the effects of concussion and Jarrod Saffy seeing a specialist over his back injury.
Veteran Michael Lipman, who also has ongoing back trouble, is likely to be available.