The Melbourne Rebels will target NSW’s shaky scrum as they chase an historic win in Sydney to derail the Waratahs’ Super Rugby playoff hopes.
Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson is on record admitting his side must win Sunday’s vital conference derby at Allianz Stadium to retain control of their finals fate.
But the Rebels have big ambitions of their own.
A breakthrough away win over the 2014 champions would vault the Rebels at least six competition points clear of the Waratahs, a comfortable buffer heading into their well-earned round-seven bye next week.
“It would be a great thing and nothing less than the group deserves,” Rebels coach Tony McGahan said.
“They know how big this game is on a number of fronts, especially inside the Australian conference but also for ourselves to continue to control what we do.
“We’ve got a bye after this. We’ve had a really big six weeks and for us to put a really strong point at the end of the six weeks is what we’re looking for.”
The NSW scrum’s struggles have been well documented, leaving McGahan wary of a backlash.
But he did concede the Rebels would look to exploit the Waratahs’ wobbly set piece, saying “what (Rebels assistant coach) Zane Hilton’s done with our scrum over the last two years has been fantastic”.
“This year so far it’s been really held up under attack and defence so we expect that to continue,” McGahan said.
“It’s one thing to focus on the scrum, but you’ve got to be able to play some footy as well.”
Melbourne’s first-choice halfback and Wallabies hopeful Nic Stirzaker will start his first game of the season following shoulder surgery.
The Rebels hope to take advantage of the captain’s tight relationship with five-eighth Jack Debreczeni to improve their attack after failing to score a try in their disappointing loss to the Highlanders last round.
“All our players get on well but those two have lived together,” McGahan said.
“They came through together, they played NRC together so they’ve got a good rapport.” “All our players get on well but those two have lived together,” McGahan said.
“They came through together, they played NRC together so they’ve got a good rapport.”
Waratahs captain Michael Hooper says the hosts are well aware of the danger the Rebels pose.
“They’ve had a pretty strong start to the season, they’ve been a growing team over the last couple of years and got threats all over the field,” Hooper said.
“So it’s nice to have them at home – Sunday arvo, pretty excited.”