Injuries have opened the door for four players to make their Melbourne Rebels debut against the Brumbies in their Super Rugby AU competition kick-off on Saturday night in Canberra.
The Rebels will be without Wallabies No.8 Isi Naisairani, who has a hamstring injury, with a number of new faces in their pack.
Former Sunwolves lock Michael Stolberg has forced his way into the starting side, 21-year-old Josh Kemeny will wear the No.6 jersey for the first time after impressing during the COVID break, while forwards Efitusi Maafu and Trevor Hosea have been included on the bench.
Hooker Anaru Rangi will miss the clash with a knee injury, with Test rake Jordan Uelese starting.
Wallabies playmaker Matt Toomua will play his 100th Super Rugby match, lining up against the club where started his career.
He felt Brumbies youngster Noah Lolesio got the better of him in their round two meeting and was looking to square up.
Toomua admitted i t was a strange time to be bringing up his milestone, with the Rebels forced to relocate to the ACT due to a coronavirus spike in Melbourne.
“It is odd, but we’re all just excited to play – I don’t think I need any more motivation,” the 30-year-old said.
“It’s a bit fitting coming back here to have it in Canberra … but coming back from this COVID thing it’s very much overshadowed.
“There’s a lot of fresh blood out there and I think it’s a cool little chapter we’re about to write for Australian rugby.”
Toomua felt the Rebels were hitting their straps when the regular Super competition was shut down in March after seven rounds, with the Brumbies runaway Australian conference leaders.
“When this new competition happened, the Waratahs were pretty happy we were all starting fresh on zero points, the Brumbies were pretty filthy, and we were pretty ambivalent.
“If you look at the competition you probably think Brumbies away is one of the tougher matches and we’ve got that round one and that gets you going, which is good.”
Rebels: Dane Haylett-Petty (c), Andrew Kellaway, Reece Hodge, Billy Meakes, Marika Koroibete, Matt To’omua, Ryan Louwrens, Michael Wells, Richard Hardwick, Josh Kemeny, Michael Stolberg, Matt Philip, Pone Fa’amausili, Jordan Uelese, Matt Gibbon. Reserves: Efitusi Maafu, Cameron Orr, Jermaine Ainsley, Esei Haangana, Rob Leota, Frank Lomani, Andrew Deegan.
– Melissa Woods
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