Melbourne Rebels skipper Nic Stirzaker is set to make his first Super Rugby appearance of the year after being named on the bench for their historic clash with the Sunwolves in Tokyo.
Stirzaker’s return from shoulder surgery was delayed after a pre-season setback but the halfback will finally get his first run in nine months.
Gun flanker Sean McMahon will retain the match-day captaincy for this round.
Rebels coach Tony McGahan said the injection of Stirzaker as well as flanker Scott Fuglistaller, who is playing his first 2016 match following a hip injury, would give the side valuable experience.
While Ben Meehan, who will retain the No.9 jersey on Saturday afternoon at Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium, has done well the Rebels have missed the combination that Stirzaker and five-eighth Jack Debrezceni share.
Melbourne also have veteran centre Tamati Ellison back in the line-up after he missed their last round win over the Reds with concussion.
Pat Leafa is the new hooker relegating James Hanson to the bench in the only other change to the run-on side.
“It’s been great to have Nic and Scott back, they bring a wealth of experience and leadership to the team,” McGahan said.
The Rebels are two wins from three games while expansion club the Sunwolves are yet to chalk up their first victory, losing by one point to the Cheetahs last round after holding a healthy half-time lead.
Melbourne are the first Australasian club to take on the Sunwolves, who have played two South African teams and had a bye.
The new side features some familiar faces for the Rebels with former teammate Shota Horie and Keita Inagaki lining up.
Sunwolves captain Horie made 18 appearances for the Rebels in 2013 after becoming the first Japanese international to sign with an Australian Super Rugby club while Inagaki won one Melbourne cap.
McGahan has been impressed with the Japanese side’s start to the competition.
“Were expecting a very passionate, fast-paced and technical game from the Sunwolves on Saturday, McGahan said.
“For a new side, they continue to impress with their development, and we expect nothing less again this weekend.”
Rebels: Jonah Placid, Dom Shipperley, Tamati Ellison, Mitch Inman, Tom English, Jack Debreczeni, Ben Meehan, Adam Thomson, Sean McMahon (captain), Jordy Reid, Lopeti Timani, Luke Jones, Laurie Weeks, Pat Leafa, Toby Smith. Res: James Hanson, Cruze Ah Nau, Jamie Hagan, Sam Jeffries, Scott Fuglistaller, Nic Stirzaker, Dan Hawkins, Sione Tuipulotu.