Reece Hodge into centres for Rebels

The Melbourne Rebels will give Reece Hodge his first start in the centres as they prepare to face the rampant Cheetahs in their Super Rugby clash at AAMI Park on Friday night.

Hodge, who has impressed in four games at fullback in his debut season, has been shifted to outside centre as they line up against the South Africans, who won their last match against the Sunwolves 92-17, scoring 14 tries.

Sefa Nailavu will move from centre to wing to cover Dom Shipperley, who is out for the season with a knee injury suffered in their 38-13 loss to the Hurricanes last round.

Wallabies prop Toby Smith is back after missing that match through concussion while Jonah Placid will take Hodge’s place at the back.

Flanker Colby Fainga’a will make his return from an elbow injury suffered in round one; named on the Rebels bench alongside recalled backs Sione Tuipulotu and Japanese international Kotaro Matsushima.

The Rebels are looking for more thrust in their attack, which only managed two tries to the Hurricanes’ six.

“With Dom Shipperley and Mitch Inman unavailable for selection due to injury, we’ve been forced to make a few changes this weekend against the Cheetahs, which isn’t great for continuity, but I’m looking forward to the young backs playing well,” coach Tony McGahan said.

“Our depth has been tested a few times already this year with various injuries but those players coming in have always stepped up and taken the challenge head on so I’m expecting nothing less again this weekend.”

The Rebels have beaten the Cheetahs once in their previous four meetings with the victory coming when the two sides last meet at AAMI Park in round 3, 2014.

Centre Tamati Ellison was among six players to make debuts for the Rebels in that match.

While named for Friday night, Ellison is in some doubt with his wife overdue with their fourth child.

The 33-year-old said he hadn’t made a decision if he would play.

“There’s an 80 minute window there so hopefully she can hold off,” he joked.

Rebels: Jonah Placid, Cam Crawford, Reece Hodge, Tamati Ellison, Sefa Naivalu, Jack Debreczeni, Nic Stirzaker (captain), Adam Thomson, Sean McMahon, Jordy Reid, Lopeti Timani, Luke Jones, Laurie Weeks, James Hanson, Toby Smith. Res: Pat Leafa, Cruze Ah Nau, Jamie Hagan, Sam Jeffries, Colby Fainga’a, Ben Meehan, Kotaro Matsushima, Sione Tuipoluto.

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