The Melbourne Rebels have been forced to blood one of their recruits early in Friday’s season-ending Super Rugby clash with Queensland, as Sean McMahon and Luke Jones return from injury.
Coach Tony McGahan has made four changes to his starting line-up for the match at Suncorp Stadium, with Wallabies flanker McMahon, departing lock Jones and Mitch Inman back and Paul Asquith to make his run-on debut at fullback.
McMahon (groin) and Jones (concussion) were desperately missed in last week’s humiliating 85-26 loss to the Crusaders and, together with Inman, inject a much-needed 202 games of experience into the struggling side.
“It’s nice to get a few guys back and a bit of experience,” McGahan said on Wednesday.
“They’ll certainly bolster (the side) and be well needed this weekend.”
It will be Jones’ final game for the Rebels before he leaves for French club Bordeaux, while Lyon-bound fullback Mike Harris has already played his last after hurting his hamstring in Christchurch.
With Lopeti Timani (concussion) still sidelined, 11 players were unavailable this week for selection.
Forced to dig deep, McGahan has named rising Australian under-20s star Jack Maddocks – whom the club recently signed on a two-year deal starting in 2017 – on the bench.
Maddocks helped fill numbers at training last week and made an impression.
While McGahan admitted he didn’t really have any other option, he didn’t see it a risk to play the 19-year-old.
“He’s a good physical player,” he said.
“We certainly wouldn’t have put him out there if there were any doubts about whether he could handle Super Rugby.
“Whilst an opportunity presented itself, we had to have faith in him that he can deliver at the same time.”
The Rebels are out for redemption after conceding a whopping 13 tries last weekend.
Skipper Nic Stirzaker said the team had tried to put a line through the game and move on.
“We know it’s not good enough, so the less said about that game probably the better,” he said.
The Reds will also look to restore some pride in their jersey after getting thumped 50-5 by the Chiefs, and Stirzaker reckons it’ll be a fiery clash.
The Rebels, third in the Australian conference ahead of the Reds, have had a decent record against local rivals – winning four from five games this season against Australian teams.
Rebels: Paul Asquith, Sefa Naivalu, Mitch Inman, Reece Hodge, Tom English, Jack Debreczeni, Nic Stirzaker, Colby Fainga’a, Jordy Reid, Sean McMahon, Culum Retallick, Luke Jones, Laurie Weeks, James Hanson, Toby Smith. Res: Pat Leafa, Cruze Ah Nau, Jamie Hagan, Sam Jeffries, Rob Leota, Ben Meehan, Sione Tuipulotu, Jack Maddocks.