The Melbourne Rebels are determined they won’t be whipping boys for the NSW Waratahs for a second time when they kick off their 2012 Super Rugby campaign at AAMI Park on Friday night.
The Waratahs steamrolled the Rebels 43-0 in the opening game of their debut 2011 season at the same ground but Melbourne coach Damien Hill said his side was ready to compete for 80 minutes.
“We hope this year’s different from last year’s start,” Hill said.
“We’d love a win first up … but win, lose or draw, if we perform well and we’re in it until the 80th minute, we’ll get confidence out of that.”
Losing star fullback recruit Kurtley Beale and regular hooker Ged Robinson to injury is a blow for the hosts but Hill backed the seasoned Mark Gerrard and Adam Freier to be quality replacements.
“Mark was probably our best back last year,” Hill said.
“He’s a good communicator, he’s got a great kicking game and he’s dangerous with ball in hand.
“Adam is a tenacious competitor and he fits well into our game plan.”
The Waratahs plan to dominate the forward exchanges and starve Melbourne’s flashy backs, including Wallaby recruit James O’Connor, of ball.
But the Rebels forwards held their own in recent trials against New Zealand powerhouses the Blues and Crusaders and Hill believed they were up for the challenge.
After a first-round bye, Melbourne announced a new-look backrow with Tom Chamberlain at openside, rising star Luke Jones at blindside flanker and No.8 Gareth Delve captaining the side in the absence of regular skipper Stirling Mortlock, who has a calf problem.
Former league player Jarrod Saffy will come off the bench after missing the trials through injury.
“They’re definitely up for it,” Hill said.
“The forwards through the trial period and training have put a lot of work in and they’re as ready as ever.
“They’re up against a formidable pack, it’s star-studded with Wallabies and they had a good run against the Reds.”
NSW have made only one change to the side that was pipped by Queensland, with 22-year-old fullback Bernard Foley the new fullback, pushing versatile Wallaby Adam Ashley-Cooper to the wing.
“They’ve got a strong talented team; it’s hard to find a chink from one to 15,” said Hill.
Rebels: Mark Gerrard, Lachlan Mitchell, Mitch Inman, James O’Connor, Cooper Vuna, Danny Cipriani, Nick Phipps, Gareth Delve, Tom Chamberlain, Luke Jones, Hugh Pyle, Adam Byrnes, Laurie Weeks, Adam Freier, Nic Henderson. Res: Luke Holmes, Rodney Blake, Alister Campbell, Jarrod Saffy, Richard Kingi, Lloyd Johansson, Julian Huxley.