Stirzaker returns to lead Rebels

Skipper Nic Stirzaker will make his first start of the Super Rugby season giving the Melbourne Rebels a boost for their crunch clash with the NSW Waratahs on Sunday.

The 25-year-old halfback takes the captaincy from Sean McMahon for the first time after two games off the bench following off-season shoulder surgery.

As well as Stirzaker replacing Ben Meehan at No.9, the Rebels made two other changes to their run-on team for the Allianz Stadium clash as they bid to stop the Waratahs from taking their spot in second on the Australian conference.

Reece Hodge will start at fullback while Cam Crawford replaces the injured Tom English on the wing.

It was feared veteran centre Tamati Ellison would miss the match with hamstring trouble but he has been cleared to play.

Rebels speedster Sefa Naivalu has been included in the reserves in his first game since breaking his leg in round 16 last year.

Coach Tony McGahan said Stirzaker was a valuable addition to the side, which is looking to bounce back from a disappointing 27-3 loss to the Highlanders.

“He brings a real competitive nature; he’s able to bring the other players into play and allow them to really get into the game,” McGahan said.

“He brings a real enthusiasm and calmness to the group and he will really add to our attack.”

Stirzaker said he was looking forward to matching himself against Waratahs and Wallabies No.7 Nick Phipps, who he hopes to join in the Test squad this year.

But he said it was more important that the Rebels performed well.

They have never beaten the Waratahs in Sydney.

“Anytime you play against a Test player it’s always an opportunity but for us as a team it’s just vitally important for where we’re at in the season,” Stirzaker said.

“It’s a big game for us; not only with where the Australian conference is at but with our own record and going into a bye – there are a whole host of reasons for us to win.”

Rebels: Reece Hodge, Dom Shipperley, Tamati Ellison, Mitch Inman, Cam Crawford, Jack Debreczeni, Nic Stirzaker (captain), Adam Thomson, Sean McMahon, Jordy Reid, Lopeti Timani, Luke Jones, Laurie Weeks, James Hanson, Toby Smith. Res: Pat Leafa, Cruze Ah Nau, Jamie Hagan, Sam Jeffries, Scott Fuglistaller, Ben Meehan, Dan Hawkins, Sefa Naivalu.

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