The Melbourne Rebels admit skipper Nic Stirzaker’s return date remains a mystery as they prepare to face the embattled Queensland Reds in Saturday’s Super Rugby clash.
Touted as Wallabies contender, halfback Stirzaker was initially expected to return from last year’s shoulder surgery in time to lead his team into the new season.
But Rebels coach Tony McGahan conceded on Friday he could still be missing when the Rebels travel to Tokyo to play the Sunwolves for round four next week.
“We are still a little unclear on his return unfortunately,” McGahan said.
“We were originally hoping he would be back for the Samoa game (the Rebels’ last pre-season trial) but here we are four weeks later with no clarity.
“We go away early next week,…it’s a long season and we have to make sure we make the right decision.”
New Reds interim co-coaches Nick Stiles and Matt O’Connor have rung the team changes following this week’s sacking of their former boss Richard Graham, but McGahan has identified shutting down Queensland’s set piece as key to victory.
While winless and appearing clueless in attack, the Reds boast the best lineout success so far this season (97 per cent) thanks greatly to skipper Rob Simmons and their powerful scrum is one of only three yet to concede on their put-in under Stiles’ guidance.
“The Reds have had an excellent set piece over the last few years and they’re really well coached there and have had a lot of stability,” McGahan said.
“They lead scrums and lineouts over the last few years so it’s a big entry point into the game.
“When we’ve played well against them we’ve denied them entry into the game through their set piece and when we haven’t done well over the last few years their set piece has dominated so our forwards have got a very big job.”
The Reds made two changes to their forward pack, with Anthony Ready taking over at hooker for the injured Saia Faingaa and Sef Faagase the new loosehead.