The Melbourne Rebels are counting on the recruitment of some veterans to help them break their South African hoodoo when they take on the Bulls in Pretoria.
The Rebels remain winless from 10 Super Rugby matches in the republic including two at Loftus Versfeld, where they will play early Sunday morning Australian time.
Melbourne coach Tony McGahan said the signing of former Wallaby and Queensland hooker James Hanson as well as ex-All Black flanker Adam Thomson could give them the edge needed for the breakthrough win.
“With a bit more experience around in Thomson, Hanson and (Tamati) Ellison – these blokes who’ve travelled here numerous times – the mindset of the group is a strong belief about what we can do,” McGahan said from South Africa.
McGahan said the Rebels had talked in the pre-season about winning in South Africa and wanted to make the most of their only opportunity before their return to Australia.
Last season, Melbourne posted their first win in New Zealand by beating the Crusaders.
They see South Africa as the final frontier.
“There’s a keen alertness to what’s open to us this weekend playing the Bulls,” McGahan said.
“We closed the gap last year and let ourselves down with two intercept tries but these things are important as a young club.
“The Crusaders game gave us a great belief about our direction and a win over here would give us a huge injection into the club and the young group as well.”
The Rebels will have to do it without fullback Mike Harris (quad) and flanker Colby Fainga’a (elbow) who are both sidelined.
Reece Hodge made his debut in place of Harris and collected 20 points, catching the eye of Wallabies coach Michael Cheika.
“Reece Hodge started off on the wing, ended up at fullback and then ended up at first five,” Cheika told Fox Sports’ Rugby 360 program.
“He was that good, you could have subbed him in at hooker at some stage the way he was going, and he scored a couple of tries and kicked goals so took responsibility as well.
“It’s only round one, but just the fact that he’s able to manage that type of responsibility as well as the technical part of the game is pretty impressive.”