James O'Connor returns to the No. 10 jersey for Melbourne on Friday night. Image courtesy of skysports.com
The Queensland Reds have hardly set the world on fire in the opening weeks of Super Rugby, which could be good or bad news for the Melbourne Rebels , the team they play on Friday night at AAMI Park. Five tries in three games and a total of 49 points is hardly what rugby fans have come to expect from the team that reinvigorated the competition two seasons back, but it has been good enough to win two out of their three starts so far.
At one stage this season, the Reds will click and completely blow a team off the park, but the Rebels will be hoping it’s not this week and the Reds of the opening rounds continue to splutter across the park. Despite the best efforts of Ben Lucas, Queensland looks slightly rudderless without effervescent halfback Will Genia. Lucas Lucas injured his shoulder in the 18-12 win over the Hurricanes last round, but he has recovered in time to take his place on the bench, with Nick Frisby starting in the No. 9 jersey. Wallaby centre Anthony Fainga’a returns from a hand injury suffered during a pre-season trial to start at outside centre while Jono Lance moves to fullback.
Injuries have affected Melbourne’s preparation, with fly-half Kurtley Beale to miss the next month of Super Rugby after breaking his hand in the disappointing five-point loss to the Waratahs. Coach Damien Hill has shifted James O’Connor from fullback to the playmaking role and debutant Angus Roberts is down to play at fullback, although the 22-year-old is also adept playing in the No. 10 jersey. Skipper Gareth Delve will miss the match with a shoulder problem.
The Rebels had every chance to record their first win over the ‘Tahs leading 16-6 at halftime , but the visitors fell apart in the second half. After they were plagued by slow starts last season, Melbourne has led both the Waratahs and Brumbies at halftime in consecutive weeks, but they haven’t been able to finish the job.
The Reds have won all four battles with the Rebels. Melbourne pushed Ewen McKenzie’s side early last season before Queensland prevailed 11-6, but both games at AAMI Park have finished with the visitors running out 15-point winners .
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