Pressure is on James O'Connor given Kurtley Beale's absence. Image courtesy of skysports.com
It’s no surprise to see the Western Force and Melbourne Rebels sitting at the foot of the Australian Conference in Super Rugby, but the big shock is how poor the latter has been given its acquisition of some of Australia’s top talent over the past couple of years. After a promising enough start which featured a 30-23 win over the Force, the Rebels’ season fell apart on its recent trip to South Africa. Kurtley Beale and Cooper Vuna were sent home after they were involved in an alteraction, and the Melbourne side didn’t show much fight on the field when a 64-7 thumping by the Sharks in Durban was followed by a slightly more competitive showing against the Cheetahs which finished in an 18-point loss.
Skipper Gareth Delve will miss the trip to Perth due to shoulder and rib problems. Vuna is back on the bench after serving a one-game suspension, although Beale remains sidelined indefinitely. Inside centre Lachlan Mitchell is also out of the Rebels squad, while Scott Higginbotham moves to No. 8 and will captain the side.
It has been an emotional week for the Force after short-term halfback signing Chris Eaton was told of the death of his wife in a road accident in New Zealand just hours before the team went down 23-19 to the Waratahs. The halves are where the Force appears to have the advantage thanks to imports Sias Ebersohn and Alby Mathewson. After returning from Japan, former Red Hugh McMeniman has been in outstanding form and is in pole position to partner his old teammate James Horwill at lock in the Wallabies squad for the British and Irish Lions series.
Four of the five clashes between these sides have finished in margins of three points or less. Both matches played in Perth have resulted in one-point victories to the visitors. Unlike Melbourne, the Force have been competitive in every match this season with their biggest defeat coming in a surprise 12-point loss to new South African franchise the Southern Kings.
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