Star Wallabies duo Reece Hodge and Adam Coleman have been named to return to the Rebels’ match day 23 ahead of the Club’s first home match of the year against the Highlanders at AAMI Park on Friday night.
Both Hodge and Coleman will start on the bench after overcoming lower leg injuries in what will be their first game of the 2019 Super Rugby season.
Making way for Coleman is forward Esei Ha’angana, while Hodge has been brought into the team for winger Semesi Tupuo, who has been left out of the side due to a concussion-related injury occurring at training during the week.
Two changes have been made to the starting 15 from the Rebels’ Round 1 triumph over the Brumbies, with Sam Talakai to replace Jermain Ainsley at tighthead prop, while Brad Wilkin has come into the flanker role, meaning Richard Hardwick will start in the reserves.
Head Coach Dave Wessels is thrilled at the inclusions of Coleman and Hodge into the team for Friday night’s blockbuster match.
Wessels says the extra work Hodge and Coleman have put into their rehabilitation will ensure both players will be ready when they’re called into action.
“The biggest thing for us is how much those guys have competed in rehab to get to the level where they are now,” Wessels said.
“They’ve hit some personal best fitness markers, so I think Adam and Reece deserve selection having done that.”
With the side coming off an impressive victory over the Brumbies, Wessels admitted there were serious selection headaches about who to omit from the side.
It’s why Wessels says Coleman and Hodge starting on the bench shows the level of competition required to earn spots in the starting 15.
“We want to create an environment where players are competing for spots,” Wessels said.
“Those guys who played against the Brumbies deserved to have held their spot because It’s pretty hard to split those players.”
One aspect the Head Coach wants his side to improve on ahead of the Highlanders match is to be more consistent around set pieces.
However, Wessels believes his forward pack has bettered their scrum technique over the bye week, and is confident the experienced playing group will help improve the side’s set piece.
“I thought we scrummed well at times, but we were inconsistent… but it’s something we’ve worked on over the last couple of weeks,” Wessels said.
“We’re very fortunate to have some experienced players like Tetera Faulkner who’s played 80-90 games, Sam Talakai who’s starting at tighthead this week and Anaru Rangi, because it’s not their first rodeo, so we’re confident with how they’ll go.”
One thing Wessels is extremely happy about is the chance for his side to run out onto AAMI Park for the first time in 2019.
Wessels is adamant that his side wants to make Melbourne proud and for the players to feed off the energy of the local fans during the game.
“One of the things we try and do as a team is capture the magic of Melbourne, we live in one of the world’s most liveable cities and it’s a city that’s sports mad,” he said.
“We’ve been much more purposeful as a team to get out around Melbourne and we want to use that as fuel to motivate us to perform.
“It all starts on Friday night and we can’t wait.”
Melbourne Rebels match day 23 v Highlanders, Friday March 1 at AAMI Park
1. Tetera Faulkner
2. Anaru Rangi
3. Sam Talakai
4. Luke Jones
5. Matt Philip
6. Angus Cottrell
7. Brad Wilkin
8. Isi Naisarani
9. Will Genia
10. Quade Cooper
11. Marika Koroibete
12. Billy Meakes
13. Tom English
14. Jack Maddocks
15. Dane Haylett-Petty
16. Robbie Abel
17. Matt Gibbon
18. Jermaine Ainsley
19. Adam Coleman
20. Richard Hardwick
21. Rob Leota
22. Michael Ruru
23. Reece Hodge