Fijian flyer Sefanaia Naivalu will start in the centres for the first time this Super Rugby season as the Melbourne Rebels try to make history against the Sharks.
The Rebels play the Sharks in Durban early Saturday morning Australian time and have been bolstered by the return of Naivalu from a concussion and prop Toby Smith from a back problem as they bid for their first win in South Africa.
Veteran centre Tamati Ellison failed to overcome a groin injury with coach Tony McGahan electing to start winger Naivalu there for the first time, with Dom Shipperley shifting to the flank.
Naivalu played in the centres during the Melbourne Rising’s successful NRC campaign.
Coming off a frustrating 31-15 loss to the Stormers last round in Cape Town, the Rebels will also have a new halfback in Luke Burgess, while flanker Colby Fainga’a and prop Laurie Weeks are also in the starting line-up.
Melbourne fullback Mike Harris said his team were gutted by their showing against the Stormers, with some uncharacteristic errors proving costly.
“I think you’ve got to have a pretty short memory as a player in this game,” Harris said.
“There was a lot of disappointment after the game because we knew a lot of their points had come off the back of our errors and our over-willingness to play in certain areas.”
Harris said the Rebels needed to better balance their attacking mind-set with the South African game style, which was more like Test match rugby.
“We need to be aware that South African teams need to strangle you and put you deep in your own half and at times you need to slow it down and we were probably rushing a little bit.
“You can’t chance your arm against them every phase which we were guilty of too much against the Stormers.”
Rebels: Mike Harris, Dom Shipperley, Sefanaia Naivalu, Mitch Inman, Tom English, Jack Debreczeni, Luke Burgess, Scott Higginbotham, Colby Faingaa, Sean McMahon, Lopeti Timani, Luke Jones, Laurie Weeks, Pat Leafa, Toby Smith. Res: Tom Sexton, Cruze Ah-Nau, Paul Alo-Emile, Cadeyrn Neville, Scott Fuglistaller, Nic Stirzaker, Jordy Reid, Bryce Hegarty.